Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) provided a signature moment during September’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, calling out Judiciary Committee Democrats for groundless attacks on the character of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.  

Graham describes the outcome of several Senate races last week as “Kavanaugh’s revenge.” He said the results reflected voter dissatisfaction with “a despicable smear campaign.”

Speaking of smears, given Senator Tammy Baldwin’s re-election, consider her stalled nomination to the federal district court of well-regarded Milwaukee attorney Gordon Giampietro, a nominee rated “qualified” by the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.  (Per the ABA: “The rating of ‘Qualified’ means that the nominee satisfies the Committee’s very high standards with respect to integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament, and that the Committee believes that the nominee is qualified to perform all of the duties and responsibilities required of a federal judge.”)  

Giampietro’s name initially was forwarded to Senators Ron Johnson and Baldwin by a bipartisan committee of six Wisconsin lawyers selected by the two senators. In turn, Johnson and Baldwin jointly forwarded his name to President Trump.

Baldwin subsequently backtracked. Why? As explained by University of Wisconsin Political Science Professor Ryan Owens, Baldwin effectively applied a religious test to stall Senate consideration of Giampietro’s nomination.

Baldwin is employing a century old, unwritten Senate tradition that at various times has been used either to block or delay a nomination of a federal judge from their own state. She used the same procedure to temporarily block the nomination — eventually confirmed — of Milwaukee attorney Michael Brennan to the federal court of appeals. Fortunately, in that instance, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, used his authority to override Baldwin’s obstruction of Brennan. (An excellent history of the procedures involved is provided by the Heritage Foundation.) 

Baldwin hopes to deny Giampietro the simple opportunity for a full and open public hearing before the Judiciary Committee.  The question now is whether Grassley will override Baldwin’s effort. (If Grassley relinquishes his chairmanship to take over another Senate Committee, his successor would be none other than Senator Graham.)

Given Giampietro’s clear qualifications, he should be confirmed to fill the current vacancy and help expedite the important work of Wisconsin’s federal judges. At an absolute minimum, he should receive a hearing so that the purported concerns of Senator Baldwin can be addressed in an open forum. This would be in stark contrast to Baldwin’s egregious denigration of Giampietro, in a letter to President Donald Trump, where she cites unnamed individuals “with personal or professional experience with Mr. Giampietro who have expressed grave reservations about his qualifications…” Who these anonymous cowards are, or whether they even exist, is anyone’s guess.

Baldwin’s statement cannot be squared with the ABA’s thorough evaluation and the FBI’s equally extensive background investigation. Baldwin is simply using the partisan objections of her supporters to mask her anti-Catholic bias. The most fair and effective method by which to test the strength of these “grave reservations” is a hearing in the Judiciary Committee. Of course, as we know from their treatment of Justice Kavanaugh, the Democrats have little concern for due process.

Wisconsin’s senior senator was quoted in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as saying Baldwin has relied on “bogus” procedural reasons involving information that Giampietro did not provide to the Wisconsin nominating commission. However, Johnson has explained that the state commission did not request the information supposedly withheld. Instead, a questionnaire Giampietro completed for the Senate Judiciary Committee sought the information, and Giampietro complied. (Rick Esenberg, also a member of the nominating commission, has publicly rejected the erroneous claim that Giampietro withheld anything from that body.)

Of Baldwin’s change-of-mind, Johnson said this:  “I hate to say it but let’s say it plainly, I fear this is because [Giampietro is] a person of faith. On top of it, now she’s smearing a really good man.”  He called Baldwin’s reference to unnamed sources in the letter to Trump, “despicable, quite honestly.”

Milwaukee attorney Barbara Quindel, Baldwin’s representative on the nomination commission that forwarded Giampietro’s name, subsequently withdrew her support. Unwittingly, and revealingly, she said his public reference to orthodox Catholic teaching — speaking as a private citizen on a Catholic Radio station — was “bigoted.”

After Baldwin withdrew her support, and moved instead to deny Giampietro a public hearing, he responded in detail to her stated concerns.  Among other things, he stressed his commitment to the obligations of a federal judge. Specifically:

Let me be very clear, if confirmed, I would enforce the civil rights laws of this country, as interpreted by the Supreme Court and the Seventh Circuit, without hesitation.  If confirmed as a district court judge, the oath requires that I faithfully apply the law which necessarily includes decisions of the Supreme Court and Seventh Circuit with which

I may disagree. That’s true whether my contrary views stem from my Catholic Faith or any other source. I will have no trouble taking and abiding by the judicial oath because I firmly believe that the courts do not establish public policy. They apply the law.  I am now ready to face questions the Senate Judiciary Committee may have about my background and ability to serve as a judge.

Baldwin’s obstruction denies the full Senate the opportunity exercise its constitutional advice and consent duty. And that’s not all. Consider this language in Article VI of the Constitution (emphasis added):

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Baldwin has taken an oath to abide by the Constitution, including that very relevant section.

This regrettable episode recalls the nasty innuendo, now more than a half a century old, surrounding the 1960 presidential election and whether America “was ready” to elect a Catholic president.  Candidate John Kennedy directly addressed the bigoted aspersions of that time in an address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association:

[N]either do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test, even by indirection. For if they disagree with that safeguard, they should be openly working to repeal it. . . . [C]ontrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic…Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected, on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject, I will make my decision…in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates…[if] this election is decided on the basis that 40 million Americans lost their chance of being President on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser, in the eyes of Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, in the eyes of history, and in the eyes of our own people.

Absent the intervention of Grassley (or Graham), Baldwin will deny a respected attorney, rated as “Qualified” by the ABA, the opportunity even to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Her smear of Giampietro — echoed by Barbara Quindel — will prevail. It will be a dark chapter in Wisconsin political history.