READ: Senator Mitch McConnell’s speech defending judicial nominations, religious freedom

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks at the U.S. Capitol.

Following is the text of a speech given by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on December 5, 2019 on the floor of the United States Senate. McConnell had been facing criticism of the U.S. Senate’s work confirming large numbers of federal judges nominated by President Donald Trump.

To date, the U.S. Senate has confirmed nearly 180 federal judges nominated by President Trump. They are on pace to surpass 180 by the end of the year. Two of those confirmations were to the U.S. Supreme Court, restoring a conservative majority on the highest court in the land.

Senator Mitch McConnell, December 5, 2019

‘While we wait for our Democratic colleagues to let this legislation move forward, the Senate’s used the time to confirm more of President Trump’s impressive nominees for the federal courts. Some of my friends across the aisle complain that we devote too much time to nominations.

‘Well, first, I’d remind everyone that district judges are the kinds of nominations that historically sailed through the Senate in big groups by voice vote. If my Democratic colleagues want to spend less time voting on district judges, they should take it up with their Democratic Leader, who is forcing us to take cloture vote after cloture vote.

‘As of this morning, we’ve taken cloture votes on 81 district judge nominees. By this point in President Obama’s presidency, we’d taken one cloture vote on a district judge nominee. One.

‘At the comparable point in the five presidencies preceding Obama combined, we had not taken a single cloture vote on a district judge nomination.

‘But three years into this presidency? 81 cloture votes and counting, just on district judges. So there’s your answer on floor time.

‘But more broadly, I want to take a moment to help clarify why I and millions of other Americans care so much about having federal judges who believe in the radical notion that words matter and that a judge’s job is to follow the law and the Constitution.

‘Take, for one example, the subject of religious freedom.

‘The liberty of conscience and the freedom to live out our faiths has been a foundational principle from the Republic’s earliest days. Many of the first Europeans who arrived in the New World came here fleeing religious persecution.

‘James Madison wrote that religion “must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man, and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”

‘Samuel Adams said in the summer of 1776 that America would be “the last asylum” for “freedom of thought and the right of private judgment.”

‘Let me contrast the understanding of the founders, with a couple of current events. Last month, New York State convinced a district judge to throw out the Trump administration’s conscience protection rule for healthcare providers.

‘This straightforward rule ensured healthcare workers could not be forced to perform or assist with medical procedures that profoundly violate their religious beliefs.

‘But the radical Democrats in New York could not abide this basic protection for people of faith.  Instead, they want to force Christians and other people of faith who work in healthcare to either assist in procedures like abortion, or lose their jobs. So much for freedom of conscience. 

‘New York’s behavior is part of a disturbing trend. Powerful interests on the left want to shrink freedom of religion until it means freedom to go to church for an hour on Sundays as long as it doesn’t impact the rest of your life. 

‘That shrunken interpretation is nothing like what our founders intended. And, candidly, I’m not sure how much longer the modern Democratic Party will even believe in that. 

‘A few months ago, a Democrat running for president told CNN that government should take away the tax-exempt status of churches and religious institutions that disagree with left-wing positions. This was not some fringe candidate; it was a guy whom Democrats and the mainstream media had likened to John F. Kennedy! Openly suggesting the federal government should punish churches if liberals don’t like their social views.

‘That’s appalling. These disturbing signs have not been limited to the courts or the Democratic campaign trail. Absurd anti-religious arguments have appeared right here in the Senate. 

‘In the last several years, some of our Democratic colleagues have tried literally to impose religious tests on nominees for federal office. Just take the No Religious Test Clause and the First Amendment and throw them right out the window.

‘Judge Brian Buescher, now a district judge in Nebraska, was attacked by two Democrats on the Judiciary Committee for being a faithful Catholic and a member of the mainstream, worldwide Catholic group, the Knights of Columbus.

‘In written questions, one senator called standard Catholic teachings “extreme positions” and asked if he’d dial down his personal faith practice if confirmed.

‘As our colleague Senator Sasse observed at the time, Democrats were transparently implying that “Brian’s religious beliefs, and his affiliation with this Catholic, religious, fraternal organization, might make him unfit for service… [it’s] plainly unconstitutional.”

‘Judge Amy Coney Barrett, now a circuit judge on the Seventh Circuit, was likewise subjected to a religious test during a confirmation hearing.

‘One Democrat senator literally asked: “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?” Another offered this bizarre and ominous remark: “The dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s a concern.”

‘So, look— these warning signs on religious freedom are popping up everywhere the modern political left rears its head.

‘Religious freedom in America has never meant, and will never mean, solely the freedom to worship privately. It has never meant, and will never mean, the ability to practice only a subset of faiths acceptable to some subset of politicians.

‘It means the right to live your life according to the dictates of your faith and conscience – free from government coercion.   

‘If those statements strike anybody in this chamber as remotely controversial, that is exactly why President Trump, Senate Republicans, and millions of Americans are focused on confirming federal judges who will apply our Constitution as it was originally understood.’

Pin It on Pinterest