Mirror of Justice

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

It never hurts to talk about good news . . . ACE at Notre Dame

My own view is that we are in challenging times for Catholic institutions and the challenge -- but also the need and the importance -- will only grow.  At Distinctly Catholic, Michael Sean Winters has a really good piece up, talking about Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education (A.C.E.) program (for which the brilliant and talented Prof. Nicole Stelle Garnett works, in addition to her Notre Dame Law School gig).   Also, here is a piece I did ("Treasure A.C.E.") on the program, about 5 years ago.  MSW's post opens with this:

On Monday mornings, the staff and faculty associated with Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) gather in a small chapel on the ground floor of Visitation Hall for Mass. This past Monday, Father Timothy Scully, CSC, who started ACE in 1993, was the celebrant when I joined the group for the Mass. The service is simple: guests, including myself, are welcomed, an introductory hymn (2 verses, very RC), a short homily, a song at communion. The passing of the peace takes awhile as these colleagues embrace each other at the beginning of their work week. Afterwards, I threaten to report the group to the Congregation for Divine Worship because I am not sure the passing of the peace was as somber as the CDW thinks it should be. After Mass, everyone heads upstairs for a breakfast together before heading off to their offices to set about their work.

And, what precisely is that work? In shorthand, some people think that ACE is trying to save Catholic parochial schools, the educational equivalent of an architectural preservation firm. This could not be more wrong. During a morning of meetings with different staff members it becomes clear that the group has no interest in maintaining the Church’s nineteenth century infrastructure for its own sake: They are passionate about educating today’s young people in schools that are not surviving but flourishing. . . .

October 12, 2014 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Friday, October 10, 2014

Children's Rights Advocates Recognized

    Today the Nobel Prize Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzay. The awards convey several distinct messages worthy of consideration.

    First, they underscore the reality that so many children in our world, particularly girls, live in quite grave circumstances. Not only are they not afforded basic human dignity, but often they are seen as commodities and property. Indeed, the world cannot be "at peace" when such a disconnect exists between the inherent dignity of the person and institutions such as child labor and exploitation. Second, the awards again focuses the world on the significant problem of child trafficking and oppression of girls. In a world which has seemingly forgotten that over 200 Nigerian girls were kidnapped and likely sold into sexual servitude 179 days ago, a reminder of the plight of these girls is needed. This awards highlight child labor and child trafficking as very real and entrenched problems.

    In many ways these awards remind me of the 1979 Nobel Peace Price awarded to Mother Teresa "for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitutes a threat to peace." These 2014 awards continue to reflect that peace is threatened and elusive when children live in conditions of objectification and oppression. That awareness is the good news. The bad news is that we stated these things back in 1979... and yet we have not seemed to be able to improve the future for these children.

Perhaps the insight Mother Teresa offered at her acceptance speech could be useful to us today. Below are some excerpts, but the full speech can be found here.  


... He was that little unborn child, was the first messenger of peace. He recognised the Prince of Peace, he recognised that Christ has come to bring the good news for you and for me. And as if that was not enough - it was not enough to become a man - he died on the cross to show that greater love, and he died for you and for me and for that leper and for that man dying of hunger and that naked person lying in the street not only of Calcutta, but of Africa, and New York, and London, and Oslo - and insisted that we love one another as he loves each one of us. And we read that in the Gospel very clearly - love as I have loved you - as I love you - as the Father has loved me, I love you - and the harder the Father loved him, he gave him to us, and how much we love one another, we, too, must give each other until it hurts. It is not enough for us to say: I love God, but I do not love my neighbour. St. John says you are a liar if you say you love God and you don't love your neighbour. How can you love God whom you do not see, if you do not love your neighbour whom you see, whom you touch, with whom you live. And so this is very important for us to realise that love, to be true, has to hurt. It hurt Jesus to love us, it hurt him. And to make sure we remember his great love he made himself the bread of life to satisfy our hunger for his love. Our hunger for God, because we have been created for that love. We have been created in his image.

                                                                            *    *    *


There is so much suffering, so much hatred, so much misery, and we with our prayer, with our sacrifice are beginning at home. Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the action that we do. It is to God Almighty - how much we do it does not matter, because He is infinite, but how much love we put in that action. How much we do to Him in the person that we are serving.

                                                                                        * * *

And so here I am talking with you - I want you to find the poor here, right in your own home first. And begin love there. Be that good news to your own people. And find out about your next-door neighbour - do you know who they are? I had the most extraordinary experience with a Hindu family who had eight children. A gentleman came to our house and said: Mother Teresa, there is a family with eight children, they had not eaten for so long - do something. So I took some rice and I went there immediately. And I saw the children - their eyes shinning with hunger - I don't know if you have ever seen hunger. But I have seen it very often. And she took the rice, she divided the rice, and she went out. When she came back I asked her - where did you go, what did you do? And she gave me a very simple answer: They are hungry also. What struck me most was that she knew - and who are they, a Muslim family - and she knew. I didn't bring more rice that evening because I wanted them to enjoy the joy of sharing. But there were those children, radiating joy, sharing the joy with their mother because she had the love to give. And you see this is where love begins - at home.

                                                                        * * *

 Because today there is so much suffering - and I feel that the passion of Christ is being relived all over again - are we there to share that passion, to share that suffering of people. Around the world, not only in the poor countries, but I found the poverty of the West so much more difficult to remove. When I pick up a person from the street, hungry, I give him a plate of rice, a piece of bread, I have satisfied. I have removed that hunger. But a person that is shut out, that feels unwanted, unloved, terrified, the person that has been thrown out from society - that poverty is so hurtable and so much, and I find that very difficult. Our Sisters are working amongst that kind of people in the West. So you must pray for us that we may be able to be that good news, but we cannot do that without you, you have to do that here in your country. You must come to know the poor, maybe our people here have material things, everything, but I think that if we all look into our own homes, how difficult we find it sometimes to smile at each, other, and that the smile is the beginning of love.

                                                                                    * * *

I never forget some time ago about fourteen professors came from the United States from different universities. And they came to Calcutta to our house. Then we were talking about that they had been to the home for the dying. We have a home for the dying in Calcutta, where we have picked up more than 36,000 people only from the streets of Calcutta, and out of that big number more than 18,000 have died a beautiful death. They have just gone home to God; and they came to our house and we talked of love, of compassion, and then one of them asked me: Say, Mother, please tell us something that we will remember, and I said to them: Smile at each other, make time for each other in your family. Smile at each other. And then another one asked me: Are you married, and I said: Yes, and I find it sometimes very difficult to smile at Jesus because he can be very demanding sometimes.




October 10, 2014 in Leary, Mary G. | Permalink

The Passing of "Big John" Colwell

For I was in prison and you visited me.  (Matthew 25:36)

A couple of months ago, I posted two messages (here and here) about prisoner rights cases that had been won in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit through our Appellate Clinic at the University of St. Thomas, working in partnership with the University of Arkansas Federal Appellate Litigation Project.

One of those cases, Colwell v. Bannister (decision here), was handled primarily by our Arkansas partners.  The case involved a prisoner who had suffered for a decade from blindness in one eye due to a cataract, which could easily be removed by surgery.  The Nevada prison refused to approve cataract surgery despite the recommendations of his doctors.

In a published opinion, the Court of Appeals reversed the District Court’s grant of summary judgment to the Nevada Department of Corrections. In words that speak eloquently to the fundamental dignity of all persons, including our neighbors held in prison, the Ninth Circuit held “that the blanket, categorical denial of medically indicated surgery solely on the basis of an administrative policy that ‘one eye is good enough for prison inmates’ is the paradigm of deliberate indifference.”

Shortly after the Colwell opinion was issued in August, the University of Arkansas appellate team received a letter from “Big John” Colwell saying, “I cannot express how much I appreciate you and your team.  I’m proud that you chose to represent me and went way beyond my expectations.”  Mr. Colwell also praised the information and attentive communications they had maintained with him.  He went on to say that he learned of his victory in the Ninth Circuit even before a letter arrived from the Arkansas team or they were allowed to make a telephone call into the prison.  A corrections officer had stopped to congratulate Mr. Colwell and told him that his story was in the Nevada newspapers that day.

Inside the legal academy, I know this kind of appreciation from clients who were well-served by faithful lawyers is a regular part of the experience of our colleagues who teach in clinical programs, as well as many others in law schools who do pro bono work for the disadvantaged.  So this episode might otherwise go without further mention, beyond the satisfaction taken by those of us involved with the case.

But I take the time to relate this particular story because the impact we were able to make on the life on this man, giving him a sense of dignity well beyond the success in the appeal, was brought home powerfully to me last week.  Shortly after we got the word that the Ninth Circuit had denied Nevada’s petition for rehearing en banc, we learned that Mr. Colwell had passed away in his prison cell.

Mr. Colwell’s last contacts with the world outside of prison walls were his communications with University of Arkansas Professor Dustin Buehler and students (now graduates) Lauren Eldridge and Mason Boling, who had been his counsel in this matter.  Although Mr. Colwell now will never receive the full medical treatment to which he was entitled as a human being, he did know that his rights had been vindicated.  The justice system had confirmed that he did matter.

When we agreed to take on Mr. Colwell’s case in our pro bono clinic work, he had already lost in two venues.  The prison had denied him cataract surgery, despite his requests through the prison grievance system, and the District Court had granted summary judgment against his request to be treated for blindness in that eye.  Without the diligent work, attention to detail, command of the case-law, mastery of the factual record, and powerful briefs and arguments presented by the University of Arkansas team, that loss would have been the final word on his plea for help.  Thank God that it was not and that he lived to hear the final word.  As Dustin Buehler reminds us, “Lawyering can be such a powerful tool in the hands of those who are passionate enough and dedicated enough to use our craft for good.  Let us never forget that.”

As Lauren Eldridge said so eloquently after the passing of “Big John,” to his representatives, he was not a criminal confined to a cell, but a victim:  “We saw him for who he was at the time we came into his life and did what we could to help him.”  Big John Colwell’s epitaph should read, as he often would say to his appellate counsel, “I don't know the law, but I know what's right.”

October 10, 2014 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink

Podcast on Holt v. Hobbs

My colleague Mark Movsesian and I have recorded a podcast on Holt v. Hobbs, the "prison beard case" argued at the Supreme Court earlier this week. We consider some of the briefing, the oral argument, and even some of the third-party-harms theory of the Establishment Clause that I discussed earlier. We conclude with some predictions. It's about 26 minutes long--come on over and have a listen.

October 10, 2014 in DeGirolami, Marc | Permalink

Unlikely Allies

Two women in two publication outlets representing what one would assume to be diametrically opposing world views recently both decried the same sad fact:  that 90% of fetuses diagnosed with Down Syndrome in the country are aborted.   Check it out.  See the post by Ki’tay Davidson, blogger on the Black Girl Dangerous Blog (describing its mission: as "to, in as many ways possible, amplify the voices, experiences and expressions of queer and trans* people of color"), entitled "Angry About the White Lesbians Suing for Having a Black Child:  You're Missing Something".  (Thanks to a former student, Bethany Jennings, for bringing it to my attention.)  Then see the post by Denise Hunnell on ZENIT (describing itself as "an international, non-profit news agency staffed by a team of professionals and volunteers who are convinced that the extraordinary wisdom of the Pontiff and the Catholic Church can nourish hope, and assist all of humanity to find truth, justice and beauty"), entitled, "Down Syndrome Does Not Make Life Disposable:  Why is Disdain Becoming More Acceptable?".

Is a consensus emerging?


October 10, 2014 in Schiltz, Elizabeth | Permalink

The mainstreaming of porn

As the father of three daughters concerned about how their future husbands are being formed by our culture, I notice the mainstreaming of pornography. This week "Porn Hub" put up a giant ad in Times Square, further signaling porn consumption as an accepted -- even expected -- dimension of modern life.  The ad was the winning selection from more than 3000 entries in a contest designed to identify a "SFW" marketing campaign for a service that is decidedly "NSFW." An anti-pornography site posted marked-up versions of some of the entries, redesigning them to show the real costs inflicted by pornography use.  What struck me most were the reactions to the anti-pornography site, with commentators 1) asking how these Puritans could be so uptight about something that is "harmless" and that "everyone" uses? and 2) from those who agree that porn use is not harmless, criticizing the site for trying to shame pornography users (not by naming them, mind you, just by condemning the use of porn), and that the better tactic is to express sympathy for, and offer support to, porn users.

Two responses: 1) Porn is not harmless, and there is increasing evidence of its destructive nature that is accessible even to the non-"Bible thumping" crowd.  2) Offering support is important, but consumers of porn need to understand the potential harms before support is even relevant or possible.  Our society has largely turned a blind eye to the rise of pornography.  We are not in a place where a conversation about turning away from porn can find wide traction; first we need to reengage the reasons why the consumption of porn used to be shameful.

When I lived in NYC, I once called the City to complain about an extremely inappropriate (in my view) Calvin Klein billboard that had just been put up in the middle of Manhattan.  The operator spent ten minutes trying to identify a category in which to place my complaint -- there was no category for indecency, inappropriate advertisements, etc.  Finally she gave up and transferred me to the local precinct of the police department.  Ten years later, are we losing our capacity to recognize a basis for complaining about porn?

October 10, 2014 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink

O Canada!

Last weekend I had the privilege of speaking at the national conference of the Canadian Christian Legal Fellowship.  It was very similar to Christian Legal Society conferences in the U.S. except that different court cases were stirring passions.  The controversy surrounding the proposed Trinity Western Law School was a frequent topic of conversation. It appears that Canadian law is supportive of Trinity Western's right to train professionals without sacrificing its community covenant; it's the members of the various provinicial law societies who are working to block accreditation. 

One equally interesting debate concerns the case of Loyola High School v. Attorney General of Quebec, a case pending before the Canadian Supreme Court.  Loyola objects to the government's requirement that the Catholic school teach the required Ethics, Religion and Culture (ERC)  curriculum from a neutral perspective in order to support pluralism and facilitate dialogue among students.  The oral arguments in March 2014 included some exchanges that would be eyebrow-raising in the US, including one Justice's suggestion that Loyola avoid the dilemma by hiring a non-Catholic to teach this portion of the curriculum. Opposition to the ERC is not universal, even among traditional evangelical Christians.  Regent prof John Stackhouse, for example, supports the ERC as a sensible approach in a pluralist society.  The Court's ruling, expected in the coming weeks, will shape the future of institutional religious liberty in Canada.

There is a vibrant community of religious liberty advocates in Canada, including Christian Legal Fellowship and the Canadian Council of Christian Charities, and it was a privilege to get to know their leaders

October 10, 2014 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Re: SSM cert denials -- generally speaking, state courts are not bound by federal circuit court of appeals precedents

Some of the reporting about state actions regarding marriage following the Supreme Court's denial of certiorari may leave the inaccurate impression that something in our nation's federal structure dictates that state courts are bound by federal circuit court of appeals precedents. But that is not the case. See Lockhart v. Fretwell, 506 U.S. 364, 376 (1993) (Thomas, J., concurring) ("The Supremacy Clause demands that state law yield to federal law, but neither federal supremacy nor any other principle of federal law requires that a state court's interpretation of federal law give way to a (lower) federal court's interpretation. In our federal system, a state trial court's interpretation of federal law is no less authoritative than that of the federal court of appeals in whose circuit the trial court is located."). There are some older state appellate cases that appear to require state courts to follow federal authorities. Indeed, the state caselaw is surprisingly messy on this point. See generally Colin E. Wrabley, Applying Federal Courts of Appeals' Precedent: Contrasting Approaches to Applying Court of Appeals' Federal Law Holdings and Erie State Law Predictions, 3 Seton Hall. L. Rev. 1, 16-28 (2012). But most state courts have expressly stated (as they should) that they are not bound as a matter of vertical stare decisis by lower federal court decisions on questions of federal law.  Id. at 17-19.

Consider what is taking place now in South Carolina. (HT: How Appealing) The South Carolina Supreme Court has issued an injunction prohibiting probate judges from issuing marriage licenses until a federal district court addresses the issue in a pending case, Bradacs v. Haley. A lawyer for two women seeking a marriage license has criticized South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson for seeking the injunction. The Post & Courier reports:  

Asked whether Wilson was simply upholding South Carolina law by filing the injunction, S.C. Equality Attorney Malissa Burnette, who is representing Condon and Bleckley, said to do his job, Wilson must also uphold federal law.

"The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals governs the South Carolina courts, and it has already stated that there's a fundamental right to marry for same sex couples and that to deny that is a denial of due process and equal protection," Burnette said. "That has already been decided. He has an oath to honor that law as well."

The South Carolina Supreme Court's order suggests that the South Carolina Supreme Court does not agree, although it is not as clear as it could be on this point. Perhaps this is because a South Carolina Supreme Court case from the 1940s stated that federal cases "are controlling of the meaning and effect of the Federal Constitution." State v. Ford Motor Co., 208 S.C. 379, 390 (1946). The court's statement about federal cases, in context, was not limited to decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States. As recently as last year, the Court of Appeals of South Carolina relied on this older state supreme court case for the proposition that lower federal cases are controlling. State v. Dukes, 404 S.C. 553, 562 (S.C. Ct. App. 2013). Regardless of what happens with same-sex marriage in South Carolina, the Supreme Court of South Carolina should clarify and fix the state's approach to the purported binding effect of lower federal court judgments.

This issue has come up in recent years in Virginia. In MacDonald v. Moose, a split panel of the United States Court of Appeals held the state's sodomy prohibition in Virginia Code 18.2-361 facially unconstitutional under Lawrence v. Texas. The Supreme Court of Virginia had previously rejected just such a challenge. Virginia courts are continuing to follow the state decision rather than the federal decision. See, e.g., McClary v. Virginia, No.  No. 0240-13-4 (Ct. App. Va. 2014)Saunders v. Virginia, 62 Va. App. 793, 753 S.E.2d 602 (2014). (For whatever it's worth, I've argued elsewhere that the Fourth Circuit's decision in MacDonald is wrong.)

October 9, 2014 in Walsh, Kevin | Permalink

Lawler and Reinsch on Freedom and the Human Person

One of the recurring questions here at MOJ and across the Catholic blogosphere is whether and to what extent Catholicism and American liberal democracy can happily co-exist ("the viability of the John Courtney Murray project" in shorthand). This essay at National Affairs by Peter Augustine Lawler and Richard Reinsch is a rich (and very well-written) reflection on that question by way of an engagement with the thought of Orestes Brownson, the still-unduly-neglected nineteenth century American Catholic thinker. As Lawler and Reinsch note at the outset of the piece:

Some of our most familiar political and intellectual categories, adapted to suit 20th-century debates, now cause us to fall into a simpleminded individualism that we cannot really believe. Too many conservatives, for instance, persist in the tired distinction between individual freedom and collectivism. That unrealistic bifurcation helped discredit the communist or fascist reduction of the particular person to nothing but an expendable cog in a machine, plugging away in pursuit of some glorious paradise to come at the end of History. But today that distinction too often ends up placing in the same repulsive category any understanding of the person as a relational part of a larger whole — of a country, family, church, or even nature. It thus causes conservatives to dismiss what students of humanity from Aristotle to today's evolutionary psychologists know to be true: that we social animals are "hardwired" by instinct to find meaning in serving personal causes greater than ourselves, and that reconciling freedom with personal significance is only possible in a relational context that is less about rights than about duties.

Read the whole thing to see how Lawler and Reinsch think Brownson helps us move past such individualism, but here is a bit from a later part of the essay:

The American, constitutional mean between abstract universalism and tribal secessionism, according to Brownson, is a limited political unity of citizens who know they are also more than and less than citizens. All of us equally are shaped by natural, personal imperatives having to do with flourishing as material, political, and spiritual beings. When we forget any of the three, we fall into trouble. The material being is concerned with the personal subsistence of himself and his family. The political being is concerned with the common good shared by citizens in a "territorial democracy" in a particular part of the world. The spiritual being is concerned with discovering his relational duties to his loving personal Creator and sharing that personal news with his fellow creatures through the church.

October 9, 2014 in Moreland, Michael | Permalink

My thoughts on Biblical justice

Plough Quarterly, the journal of the Bruderhof communities, asked me to offer some thoughts on the Biblical conception of justice. Here's a link to the video of the interview:



October 9, 2014 | Permalink