"Are you now, or have you ever been, involved in the organization of a fish fry?" Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) began his line of questioning Wednesday for Peter Joseph Phipps, a nominee to be a federal judge on the United States Third Circuit.
The question might seem like an odd one for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on judicial nominees. Given that Phipps later revealed in questioning that he had been formally questioned about his involvement in a Catholic organization known for organizing fish fries, Sasse's question mocking committee Democrats made perfect sense.
Indeed, Phipps is just the latest judicial nominee to face formal scrutiny over his involvement in the Knights of Columbus, he revealed during the testimony, having received questions for public record about his membership in the group.
Last December, Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) faced backlash after they publicly questioned whether another knight, Brian C. Beuscher of Nebraska, could fairly serve as a judge due to his membership in the organization. Hirono even said that the Knights of Columbus "has taken a number of extreme positions" because of their public stances on matters relating to their Catholic faith. The two Democrats were later invited to a D.C.-area Knights of Columbus event to raise money for Special Olympics but they never showed up.
In dealing with the questions posed to Phipps, Sasse dismissed fears about the organization, saying, "This is a new tradition around here evidently — trying to figure out if people are members of religious organizations."
Sasse then had Phipps explain what the Knights of Columbus is.
The senator followed up by mockingly asking, "It's more of the stuff of community service, love of neighbor, fish fries and pool parties than any of this, than some sort of 'Da Vinci Code' stuff?" adding, "I just want to be clear that I understand this 'scary' organization that you're a member of."
"That's exactly right," Phipps responded.
A full video of Sasse's questioning is available here:
An very unamused Hirono shot back at Sasse later in the hearing.
"While Sen. Sasse has a laugh, I hope he and all of us can agree that it is never inappropriate for a member of this committee to ask whether a nominee for a lifetime position to the federal judiciary can rule fairly, whatever their personal affiliations might be," Hirono retorted. "And to be clear, no senator on this side has ever suggested that a member of any organization is per se unfit for the bench: Only those those that cannot be fair and impartial."
Note: The author of this story is a member and fraternal officer of the Knights of Columbus. His reportage is his own and not influenced by any outside organization.