Senator Ben Sasse Defends Knights at Judiciary Committee Hearing
6/5/2019By Andrew Butler
The hallowed halls of the U.S. Senate were the site of a provocative but important question by Sen. Ben Sasse to a judicial nominee: “Are you now or have you ever been involved in the organization of a fish fry.”
It was funny, but it wasn’t necessarily a laughing matter.
At issue was the recent move by some of Sasse’s colleagues to question judicial nominees about their membership in the Knights of Columbus.
At a recent U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Sasse (R., Neb.) defended the Knights of Columbus in a series of questions to Peter Phipps, a nominee for United States Circuit Judge for the Third Circuit. Phipps is a Knight belonging to Edward Douglass White Council 2473 in Arlington, Va.
Sasse then asked Phipps if he had gotten questions for the record about being a member of the Knights of Columbus. Phipps said he had received questions during the process for his district court nomination back in May 2018.
Phipps is not the only judicial nominee to be questioned over his membership in the Knights. Last December, Brian C. Buescher was questioned about whether his Knights of Columbus membership would prevent him from “fairly and impartially” hearing cases on the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska. Several senators stated that the organization had “taken a number of extreme positions” on the issues of same-sex marriage and abortion.
Phipps explained to Sasse that the Knights of Columbus is a Catholic fraternal organization dedicated to uniting men of faith. He noted that it was founded in the late 19th century to help provide for families at a time where many men faced dangerous working conditions.
“It’s a charitable organization,” Phipps said. “It’s an organization that has social and recreational activities that many members of my family have really enjoyed and really benefitted from.”
Sasse then provided for the record a number of facts about the Knights:
- Knights of Columbus is the largest Catholic fraternal service organization in the world.
- In 2017 the Knights volunteered and contributed more than $185 million to charitable organizations and activities.
- Also in 2017, Knights volunteered more than 75,600,000 service hours.
- The Knights have a proud tradition of standing against the forces of prejudice and oppression such as the Ku Klux Klan.
Sasse expressed his concern that questioning over membership in the Knights is “becoming common practice on the committee.”
“I really hope we reconsider this new tradition on this committee of asking people about their religious commitments.”
This is not the first time Sen. Sasse has come to the aid of the Knights. In January of this year, he introduced a resolution adopted by unanimous consent that “disqualifying a nominee to federal office on the basis of membership in the Knights of Columbus” violates that anti-religious test clause of the U.S. Constitution.
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