Dissenting in Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage, Justice Samuel Alito gravely predicted that “those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.”
He was right. In Wisconsin, this campaign of religious intolerance has claimed a new casualty in Gordon Giampietro, President Trump’s former nominee to a vacant seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. He was revealed to be removed from the list of renominations Trump issued on January 22. Democrats have all but ensured that, for the crime of publicly voicing the teachings of his faith, Giampietro will never sit on the federal bench.
‘The Dogma Lives Loudly Within’ People of Faith
A number of Senate Democrats have famously come to the conclusion that Catholics faithful to the teachings of their church are unfit for public service. In September 2017, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) bizarrely complained that “the dogma lives loudly within” Judge Amy Coney Barrett, suggesting that her faith precludes her service on the bench.
In December 2018, presidential candidate Kamala Harris (D-CA) shamefully attempted to make membership in the Knights of Columbus, a renowned Catholic charitable organization, a disqualifying offense. One can apparently be a Catholic, but ought not to be too serious about it.
That this nonsense has now claimed Giampietro is a shame. His qualifications are beyond question. An assistant general counsel at a Fortune 500 company, he has more than a decade’s experience as a federal prosecutor after becoming a partner at one of Wisconsin’s most successful law firms. He received the approval of the bipartisan Wisconsin Federal Nominating Commission (on which one of us sat), of Wisconsin Sens. Ron Johnson (R) and Tammy Baldwin (D), and of the American Bar Association, which awarded him an official rating of “qualified.”
But that was before BuzzFeed reported that Giampietro was an unapologetically orthodox Catholic, quoting remarks he had made on Catholic radio criticizing same-sex marriage and birth control and a comment he had posted in response to an article on a Catholic website lamenting that the “original sin” of slavery had spawned a modern legacy of race-based decision-making.
Although his views on same-sex marriage and birth control reflect the official teaching of a church with more than 1 billion members worldwide (and his views on affirmative action are well within the mainstream of conservative legal thought), Giampietro had made the mistake of sharing his thoughts outside the recesses of his home. That gave the left the hook it needed.
“Oh Look, Another One of Trump’s Court Picks Is Really Anti-Gay,” sneered a HuffPost headline. A prominent Madison newspaper branded Giampietro “entirely unacceptable.” The Human Rights Campaign quickly pushed out a glossy attack ad urging viewers to contact their senators and tell them “to block a lifetime appointment for Gordon Giampietro.”
Critics settled on two narratives. The first was that Giampietro had failed to make necessary disclosures to the nominating commission. That is patently false. He provided everything he was asked for and no one on the commission could have been surprised by his religious views.
The Most Pernicious Narrative
Far more pernicious was the claim that his views meant he could not be an impartial judge, the corollary being that no faithful Catholic is qualified to serve in the federal judiciary. Wisconsin’s five bishops penned an open letter to Baldwin, who held the power to effectively sink Giampietro’s nomination by withholding her “blue slip” (essentially a senatorial letter of approval). The bishops insisted—and how sad that it even needed saying—that “Catholics are capable of offering fair and impartial decisions when applying the law.” They pleaded with Baldwin to give Giampietro a chance.
It would have been quite a symbol of magnanimity, open-mindedness, and statesmanship had Baldwin, the first openly gay individual elected to the U.S. Senate, at least granted Giampietro a hearing before her colleagues and the rest of the country. Instead, in an open letter addressed to President Trump, Baldwin reneged on her previous recommendation, stating that she was no longer supporting Giampietro. With Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, honoring the blue-slip tradition for district court nominees—essentially permitting home-state senators to block a nominee from receiving a vote—Baldwin ended Giampietro’s nomination.
At no time has Giampietro said anything to suggest that he would not honor the legal rights of gay and lesbian people (or anyone else), or refuse to apply the law. While fancying herself a champion of tolerance, Baldwin is, instead, engaged in religious bigotry and exclusion, blocking a nominee because of his religious beliefs and not his professional qualifications and commitment to the rule of law.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this shameful affair is the lack of noise that accompanied it. It is one thing when religious bigotry finds a home in the U.S. government. It’s something else entirely when we come to accept it as business as usual.
While senatorial prerogatives are well and good, they ought not to shield religious exclusion. All Americans—Catholic and otherwise—need to demand more from the nation’s representatives, lest the religious test that was applied to Giampietro become a normal part of the vetting for every job in public service, and the country’s promise of religious liberty fade into nothing.