In a 2014 debate when he was running for the U.S. Senate, acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker said judges should have a Christian worldview, and that a judge with a “secular worldview” would be problematic, according to reports from that time.
Efforts to reach Whitaker, who was appointed Wednesday by President Trump to the post of acting attorney general, were not immediately successful. A May 2014 report in the Des Moines Register cited the event, in a critical column by Register opinion writer Rekha Basu.
In her column, Basu described an April 25, 2014, debate among candidates vying for a U.S. Senate seat from Iowa. The debate was hosted by the Family Leader, a conservative Christian group, and was moderated by Erick Erickson, then a popular conservative blogger who went on to found news site the Resurgent.
“If they have a secular worldview, where this is all we have here on Earth, then I’m going to be very concerned about how they judge,” Whitaker says at the Family Leader debate on a video published in April 2014 by the progressive advocacy group Right Wing Watch.
Whitaker was answering a question. Erickson had asked the candidates “what criteria” they would use to block President Obama’s judicial nominees. One candidate, Sam Clovis, said he would vote for judges who could link “natural law” to the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, Basu wrote.
Mark Jacobs said he would look for someone who would "not legislate from the bench." Joni Ernst echoed that view, adding the judge would need to understand that America's laws "all came from God."
But Whitaker went the farthest: "Natural law often times is used from the eye of the beholder and what I would like to see — I'd like to see things like their world view, what informs them. Are they people of faith? Do they have a biblical view of justice? — which I think is very important because we all know that our government ..."
"Levitical or New Testament?" interrupted Erickson.
“I’m a New Testament,” continued Whitaker. “And what I know is as long as they have that world view, that they’ll be a good judge. And if they have a secular world view, where this is all we have here on Earth, then I’m going to be very concerned about that judge.”
Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of the Family Leader, on Wednesday praised Whitaker and said he “is a believer in Christ, and the man of highest integrity and a man who really loves his family and his country.”
Asked what, specifically, is meant by a “New Testament” point of view for a judge, Vander Plaats said “my guess is he’s saying someone who wants justice, and to walk humbly with your God.”
“I think he’s looking at: What is the world view, the framework? If this is just about, law unto man, well, we can be pretty selfish pretty quickly. That’s why even framers of the Constitution talked about laws of nature and law of nature’s God,” he said in an interview with The Washington Post. “To me, those are the characteristics you’d want to see in someone who is in a position as acting attorney general. And what I mean by that is he won’t be swayed to and fro because of who has the best emotional argument. He has a backbone and will lead with the utmost integrity — that’s what we want to have.”
Asked what was meant during the debate by a “Levitical” or a “New Testament” judge, Vander Plaats said those questions were ones Whitaker would have to answer.
Asked whether Whitaker’s comments implied that the acting attorney general opposed judges who are not Christian or don’t share his religious beliefs, Vander Plaats said: “I’m not so sure I’d ascribe that to Matt. I think what he’s looking at is someone who understood the original intent of the Constitution.” The Founding Fathers, he said, and the Declaration of Independence, made assumptions about “nature’s God.”
“When there is a higher purpose that we as a people can unite around, then we can have the most fair implementation of justice and law in our society,” Vander Plaats said.
The Family Leader in 2010 led the campaign to oust three state Supreme Court judges in Iowa who the year before had been among those who ruled that denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples violated the state’s constitution.
Whitaker and other candidates were asked at the 2014 debate about the topic of balancing nondiscrimination with the protection of religious views.
Vander Plaats said Iowans are still very animated by people “being forced to celebrate something that goes against their religious beliefs . . . this cuts across both parties, people who understand religious liberty."
Asked if opposing judges who are secular or don’t hold a Whitaker-like view of “biblical justice” could also be a violation of religious liberty, Vander Plaats said that “it’s best for Matt to speak for himself.” But broadly, he asked, “I think what you’re seeing with the Trump administration and with others is that religious liberty is something we have to hold on to and protect because we don’t want to be wards, basically, of the state.”
Basu’s column noted that the four debaters in 2014 were asked their favorite Bible verse, and all answered it, the column said, although it did not include the candidates' answers.
“To cut to the chase of it, and what President Trump sees in him, is high character, high morals,” Vander Plaats said of Whitaker.