WASHINGTON — Nebraska’s federal judges can look forward to some imminent help in tackling the state’s caseload.
The Senate voted Wednesday to confirm Omaha attorney Brian Buescher to the U.S. District Court.
The 51-40 vote fell along party lines. Not a single Democrat voted in favor of the nomination.
President Donald Trump nominated Buescher last year after U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp announced her plans to take senior status.
Sens. Deb Fischer and Ben Sasse, both Nebraska Republicans, recommended Buescher, who leads the agribusiness litigation team at Kutak Rock’s Omaha office.
Buescher faced pointed questions from Senate Democrats about his conservative views and whether he could set those positions aside in order to judge objectively.
Those included questions about his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic service organization.
Republicans, including Fischer and Sasse, protested that line of questioning.
Both Nebraska senators took to the floor ahead of Wednesday’s vote to sing Buescher’s praises and reiterate concerns with the attention to his membership in the Knights.
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“The implication in these questions is really straightforward — it is that Brian’s religious beliefs and his affiliation with his Catholic religious fraternal organization might make him unfit for service,” Sasse said. “Let’s put it bluntly. This is plain, unadulterated anti-Catholic bigotry.”
Sasse previously offered a resolution — adopted by unanimous consent — condemning as unconstitutional the disqualification of nominees on the basis of membership in the Knights.
“Holding religious tests for our judicial nominees blatantly ignores the Constitution and it tears the fabric of our core American values — the freedom to worship and pray as we choose,” Fischer said during her remarks.
Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, was one of the senators who asked about Buescher’s membership in the group.
In an interview Wednesday, Hirono told The World-Herald that her questions to nominees are intended to probe whether those nominees can be objective judges.
“They like to make the argument that there’s some sort of a religious litmus test being posed by us, and nothing could be further from the truth,” Hirono said.
She said that in his unsuccessful bid to be Nebraska’s Attorney General, Buescher campaigned heavily on his opposition to the Affordable Care Act, gay marriage and abortion rights.
“I don’t think he can be fair and impartial,” she said.
Buescher said repeatedly during his confirmation hearing that he would set his personal views aside in deciding cases.
Hirono said nominees always insist that they will do that, but suggested that Trump’s additions to the bench have already shown a willingness to throw out court precedents.
“People can join whatever the heck religions they want as long as they leave it at the door when they’re judging,” Hirono said.