Thursday, May 28, 2009
Catholic News Agency reports:
In a surprising move, President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday evening that Miguel H. Diaz, Ph.D., a 45 year old lay Liberation theologian born in Havana (Cuba) is his pick to become the United States Ambassador to the Holy See.
An associate professor of theology at St. John's University and the College of Saint Benedict in Minnesota, Diaz, a strong Obama supporter and father of four, earned his bachelor’s degree from St. Thomas University in Miami, Fla., and his master’s and doctorate in theology from the University of Notre Dame at Notre Dame, Ind.
Read the rest here.
A newspaper reporter just asked me a few questions about the whole "Catholics and the Court" issue. Here is what I said / wrote:
1. Why do you think there are so many Catholic Supreme Court justices?
Part of the answer would be that, for a large part of American history, Catholics were often excluded from the universities, law schools, law firms, and social circles from which Justices of the Supreme Court would have been drawn. And so, the fact that we moved from having "a Catholic seat" on the Court to -- starting with Justice Scalia and running now through Judge Sotomayor -- reflects, in part, the fact that the religious demographics of elite lawyers are starting, belatedly, to come in line with the demographics of the United States.
Another part of the answer is connected to the fact that the current five Catholics were appointed by Republican, "conservative" Presidents. Before the Roe decision, and the political re-alignments of the 1970s, most Catholics in America were Democrats. But, as I suggested earlier, they were not (as a general matter) in the "club" of those who were potential nominees. However, because of cultural shifts in America, and the salience of life-issues, many more American Catholics have grown more "conservative" in their political orientation and in their thinking about the role of courts. So, after 1980, a Republican President looking for nominees who were both well qualified and conservative in terms of judicial philosophy would have confronted a "pool" that -- unlike the pool *before* these changes -- included many Catholics. Put simply, if a President was looking for -- and, since 1980, Presidents picking Justices often have been looking for -- a judicial conservative with good credentials, such a President was inevitably going to pick from a list that included many Catholics.
2. Does it matter -- in terms of legal decision-making, the place of
Catholics in American culture, or in some other way?
It does not matter so much in terms of legal decision-making. After all, *every* judge or Justice (not just a Catholic one), should aspire to judge impartially, to avoid substituting his or her own policy preferences for the content of the law, and so on. Even in "hot button" cases about social-issues, the job of a Catholic judge or Justice is not to find a way to a substantive outcome that lines up with Catholic teachings on such issues, but to reach the legally correct result. Of course, to the extent that judges are shaped -- as we all are, and as every judge is -- by experiences, values, and moral commitments, we might expect that the Catholic faith and tradition have played a role in shaping a Catholic judge's world-view. But again, a judge's world-view and personal experiences should not, as a general matter, determine the outcomes that judge reaches.
It does matter, though, in terms of what it says about America. For too long, ugly and crude anti-Catholic prejudice was a staple of American life, even in polite society. We should hope that this bias is receding.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Two separate points.
I too recommend Father Joe. It is an excellent book (though I found Father Joe's visitor annoying some of the time).
I also appreciate Richard's point about Sotomayor. If she is pro choice, she can hardly be accused of engaging in results oriented jurisprudence in the abortion cases she has heard.
I think, however, that the term "activist" has been used in a one-sided way and is not very helpful in any event. I would hope that the Sotomayor confirmation process would frontally attack the conservative claim that their justices interpret the Constitution and that liberals are “activists.” When the conservatives disable Congressional power (contrary to many decades of judicial precedent - even conceding that commerce clause interpretations had gone quite far) and in some cases obviously mangling the Constitution, e.g., the eleventh amendment cases) and when they overthrow affirmative action (despite the original meaning of the 14th amendment all the while claiming that they adhere to original meaning), it is hard to understand why their decisions are not activist. Staring at the word activist does not help in the process of constitutional interpretation. It is just an ideological term employed by conservatives, and it should be understood as such.
According to an article in the NYT:
"Judge Sotomayor has also ruled on several immigration cases involving people fighting deportation orders to China on the grounds that its population-control policy of forcible abortions and birth control constituted persecution. In a 2007 case, she strongly criticized colleagues on the court who said that only women, and not their husbands, could seek asylum based on China’s abortion policy. 'The termination of a wanted pregnancy under a coercive population control program can only be devastating to any couple, akin, no doubt, to the killing of a child,' she wrote, also taking note of 'the unique biological nature of pregnancy and special reverence every civilization has accorded to child-rearing and parenthood in marriage.'"
No one who makes such an outrageous and scandalous statement should be considered for, much less appointed to, a seat on the Supreme Court of the United States!
Read the entire article, here.
Sotomayor is being attacked by pro-lifers for two reasons: She is said to be pro-abortion, and she is said to be a judicial activist.
But on each of the three past occasions when abortion was connected to the case before her on the bench, she ruled against abortion.
Am i missing something, or don't these three outcomes tend to show that although she might be pro-abortion or she might be a judicial activist, she can't be both? (Because if she were both, she would probably have come out on the other side of those cases.)
I haven't finished grading yet, but I have finished the first book on my summer reading list - Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul by Tony Hendra. Andrew Sullivan writes: "Extrodinary, luminescent, profound ... I beg you to read this book." And, I agree!
HT: Dr. Bill S.
Prof. Howard Friedman, at the "Religion Clause" blog, has collected Judge Sotomayor's religious-freedom decisions, here. In my view, notwithstanding the (unsurprising) fact that my strong preference would have been for Justice Souter to have been replaced by someone selected by Pres. McCain, Judge Sotomayor's religious-liberty decisions -- especially her dissent in Hankins (on the ministerial exception) -- are encouraging.