Media outlets reported Durbin's alleged question about Roberts's faith, ignored Coburn's

››› ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN

The New York Times, Fox News, CNN, and The Washington Times have reported allegations that Democratic Sen. Richard J. Durbin (IL) asked Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. a question about his Catholic faith, with a New York Sun editorial accusing Durbin of "slander." But they ignored a similar question posed to Roberts by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn (OK). Coburn and Durbin questioned Roberts at separate meetings on July 22.

In a July 25 Los Angeles Times op-ed, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley reported that Durbin asked Roberts "what he would do if the law required a ruling that his church considers immoral." Since the publication of Turley's op-ed, The New York Times, The Washington Times, Fox News, and CNN all quoted or featured conservatives criticizing Durbin. In a July 27 editorial, The New York Sun accused Durbin of invoking a "religious test," writing, "Interrogating a nominee in respect of his religious beliefs is not only grossly inappropriate. It's unconstitutional." The five media outlets reporting Turley's allegations also noted that Durbin or his office have described Turley's account as inaccurate.

They did not, however, report that on the same day, Coburn asked Roberts how his faith influences his work. On July 23, the Associated Press reported that Coburn and Roberts "discussed issues ranging from Roberts' faith and his relationship with his wife to how he might change as a member of the country's highest court," adding that Coburn "said Roberts declined to answer a question about how his Catholic faith influences his life and work." The Daily Oklahoman also noted (registration required) Coburn's question, but a Nexis search* turned up no other news outlets that reported the exchange.

From the July 23 AP article, headlined "Coburn undecided about Roberts after nominee avoided questions":

Coburn said he and the nominee discussed issues ranging from Roberts' faith and his relationship with his wife to how he might change as a member of the country's highest court. He said Roberts declined to answer a question about how his Catholic faith influences his life and work.

"He said, 'I'm very uncomfortable talking about that,"' Coburn said.

Coburn said he planned to ask the questions Roberts wouldn't answer again at their next meeting. The senator said he hoped that meeting would be one-on-one.

From the July 23 Daily Oklahoman article headlined "Coburn praises nominee":

Coburn said he asked Roberts "a lot of questions," including personal ones about his faith and family. Roberts declined to answer a question about how his faith -- he is Catholic -- influences his life and work.

"He said, "I'm very uncomfortable talking about that,'" Coburn said.

From the July 26 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

ALAN COLMES (co-host): First, our top story tonight: Some conservatives are upset and are warning Democrats not to make an issue out of Judge Roberts' Catholicism. Now, last week, the judge met with Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin on Capitol Hill.

According to law professor Jonathan Turley, who wrote a column about the meeting in the Los Angeles Times, Durbin asked the judge about potential conflicts between his Catholic faith and the law. Now, according to Turley, Roberts said that he would recuse himself in cases involving abortion, the death penalty, or other issues that might conflict with Catholic teachings. A spokesman for Senator Durbin denies Turley's account of the recusal statement, but Turley is standing by his story. Either way, should the judge's faith be off-limits?

Joining us now is the president of the Family Research Council, Tony Perkins, and the author of Come Thirsty, minister Max Lucado. Thank you both very much for being with us. Tony, let me begin with you. First of all, I also spoke with Dick Durbin's office today. They say that did not happen, as Jonathan Turley wrote. And there was -- it was never brought up or said he would recuse himself from cases based on the topic of those cases. You want to respond to that?

PERKINS: Well, I'm concerned about the line of questioning of Senator Durbin. And you take that in combination with what he said on Meet the Press this weekend. He's clearly implying that people who believe that there should be some restrictions on abortion in this country are out of the mainstream, and that's an extreme position. There should be no litmus test because people have a religious conviction, that somehow they're disqualified from serving either on the bench or some other public office. I mean, that line of questioning or reasoning has a very chilling effect upon our process here in this country. And it's totally out of line.

From the July 26 edition of CNN's Inside Politics:

ROBERT D. NOVAK (CNN political analyst): I think the Democrats are in pretty bad shape if they want to stop this. You know, they spent years planning for these Supreme Court nominations and Roberts is a real conservative, and doesn't look like they are going to be able to mount a credible campaign him. It's a silly season talking about the Federalist Society. Did you ever belong to the Communist Party? And then Senator Dick Durbin is quoted by Professor Turley, Turley's not the most credible guy in the world, but he quotes him as saying he was asking about his -- whether his religion, his Catholic religion would hurt him from making decisions? Not a very good way to go about it. The only thing -- there's not going to be a filibuster, in my opinion. The best thing they can do is to hope that they can embarrass Roberts in the question and answer program not getting him to answer questions before the committee.

[...]

ED HENRY (host): And another controversy breaking out, Republicans angry that, in a private meeting on Friday, apparently, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin raised the issue with Judge Roberts about his Catholic faith and asked whether or not that would affect some of his rulings on the high court. Here's Republican Senator John Cornyn [R-TX].

CORNYN (clip) : We have no religious test for public office in this country. And I think anyone would find that sort of inquiry, if it were actually made, offensive. And so, I hope we don't go down that road.

HENRY: Now, Senator Durbin, who is Catholic himself, told me today that he believes he needs to look at everything, including the nominee's faith, as he takes a measure of the man, in this case, Judge Roberts. Durbin added that the reports about this meeting have been exaggerated, and he also noted that Judge Roberts said in the meeting that he would let his thoughts be dominated by the rule of law, and that seemed to satisfy Senator Durbin.

From a July 27 New York Sun editorial, headlined "The Religious Test":

Senator Durbin of Illinois, fresh from slandering American GIs by comparing them to Nazis, introduced a new slander into the public debate after meeting on Friday with President Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge John Roberts. Mr. Durbin, according to several press reports, asked the nominee to the high court whether he had considered potential conflicts between the moral imperatives of his Roman Catholic faith and his responsibilities as a judge.

[...]

Interrogating a nominee in respect of his religious beliefs is not only grossly inappropriate. It's unconstitutional. In Article 6, the Constitution provides that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." No, ever, any. It's the most emphatic single sentence in the entire Constitution.

From a July 27 article in The Washington Times:

Conservatives accused Mr. Durbin -- who is Catholic -- of having a religious "litmus test" under which he would oppose any nominee to the high court who is Catholic and follows the church's teaching on abortion.

Connie Mackey, vice president of the conservative Family Research Council, wrote Mr. Durbin a letter yesterday asking him to clarify his position on the matter.

From a July 26 article in The New York Times:

Congressional Republicans warned Democrats on Monday not to make Judge John G. Roberts's Roman Catholic faith an issue in his confirmation hearings for a seat on the Supreme Court, reviving a politically potent theme from previous battles over judicial appointees.

The subject came up after reports about a meeting on Friday at which Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, is said to have asked Judge Roberts whether he had thought about potential conflicts between the imperatives of their shared Catholic faith and of the civil law.

[...]

On Monday, Republicans seized the opportunity for a pre-emptive strike. Mr. Cornyn called Professor Turley's account of the discussion "troubling, if true." In his own meeting with Judge Roberts on Monday, Mr. Cornyn recounted, "I said, 'I hate to see somebody going down this road because it really smacks of a religious test for public service.' "

* Nexis search from July 23, 2005, to July 27, 2005, for (coburn and roberts and supreme court)

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