Matt Whitaker, the new acting attorney general appointed by President Donald Trump on November 7, believes that judges should be “people of faith,” and that non-believers should not serve in the federal judiciary. At least, that’s what he implied in 2014 during an Iowa candidate forum moderated by right-wing pundit Erick Erickson, on which Right Wing Watch reported. At the time, Whitaker was vying for the Republican nomination to the United States Senate—a bid he ultimately lost to Joni Ernst, who today serves as the state’s junior senator.
The forum was hosted by The Family Leader, the Religious Right group that enjoys outsized influence during presidential primary season because of Iowa’s presidential caucuses, which serve as the first contest in the presidential campaign season. As RWW’s Miranda Blue reported at the time, in answer to a question posed by Erickson about the criteria by which they would evaluate nominees to the federal bench, Whitaker took a position even further to the right of those offered by Ernst and Sam Clovis, saying that his opponents had “not gone far enough” in their statements that any judicial nominee should understand “natural law” and believe that the Constitution and U.S. law “did come from God,” as Ernst declared.
When Whitaker said that a federal judicial nominee should “have a biblical view of justice,” Erickson cracked, “Levitical or New Testament?”
“Levitical” refers to the Old Testament Book of Leviticus, which, among other punishments, calls for the death penalty for adulterers and men who have sex with other men.
In video of the event collected by RWW, Whitaker stated:
Well, as someone that’s interacted with the federal judiciary of a time or two, I will tell you that I have a unique perspective on federal judges. And you know, while I agree I want to understand their judicial philosophy and whether they understand natural law and natural rights and then the founding documents and how they fit together, I don’t think that gets us far enough because natural law oftentimes is used from the eye of the beholder, if you will. And what I’d like to see is, I’d like to see things like their worldview. What informs them? What–how would they live their lives? 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—”
ERICKSON: “Levitical or New Testament?”
WHITAKER: “I’m a New Testament—and what I know is, as long as they have that worldview, that they’ll be a good judge. And 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 you.”
A “biblical worldview” is language commonly used by evangelical Christians to describe their beliefs.
The forum was opened with an introduction by The Family Leader’s president, Bob Vander Plaats, who, in 2010, per Blue’s report, “orchestrated the ousting of Iowa Supreme Court justice who had ruled in favor of marriage equality, and who has repeatedly insisted that marriage equality is unconstitutional because it ‘goes against’ the Bible and the ‘law of nature.’”
Whitaker was appointed to lead the U.S. Department of Justice after the president fired Jeff Sessions from the job the day after the midterm elections. Trump has expressed displeasure with Sessions since the day the now-former attorney general recused himself from overseeing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, which was apparently designed to harm the candidacy of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. As Right Wing Watch’s Peter Montgomery reported, Whitaker is facing scrutiny over his past employment by a group funded nearly entirely with dark money that ginned up spurious ethics claims against Democrats, and his work on behalf of a firm that has been accused of being a scam.