Opinion: Will Justice Jackson Protect Religious Freedom?

In her opening statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson said something beautiful. After thanking members of Congress and President Joe Biden for the honor of the nomination, Jackson said, “And while I am on the subject of gratitude, I must also pause to reaffirm my thanks to God, for it is faith that sustains me at this moment. Even prior to today, I can honestly say that my life has been blessed beyond measure.” I’ve no doubt that Jackson was being sincere.

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution specifies that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” This “No Religious Test” doesn’t mean that talking about religion is to be avoided at a Supreme Court nomination hearing. After all, we are not dealing with a dinner-party conversation. So while asking a nominee about his or her “faithfulness” is hard to square with Article VI or, indeed, good manners, questions about the protection of religious freedom under the law are another matter. They need to be asked; they are an important part of the Senate’s “advice and consent” responsibilities.

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