Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

In Defense of Senator Casey

Good Morning, All,

I'd like to thank John Breen for linking to Mark Stricherz's recent post on Senator Casey.  I must disagree, however, with the characterization of this post as 'thoughtful.'  With all respect to Mr. Stricherz, I think his post unfair to Senator Casey, and so I urge him either to reconsider his attack upon the Senator or to elaborate more fully his reasons for characterizing Senator Casey in the way that he does.

How does Mr. Stricherz characterize Senator Casey?  He suggests repeatedly that the Senator's decision to refrain thus far from threatening to filibuster the health insurance reform legislation now before the Senate, unless certain demands that he might make are met, is 'unprincipled.'  He relatedly attributes merely 'political' motives to the Senator in thus refraining till now.  And he repeatedly accuses the Senator of 'lacking courage' in light of thise decision. 

Mr. Stricherz also cites, apparently with intended approval, sundry hold-up threats raised by other Senators.  In particular, he instances Senators Landrieu, Lieberman, and Nelson, who have threatened to prevent independently compelling health insurance reform legislation's going through unless the full Senate capitulates to certain individual demands that these Senators make.  One such demand noted by Mr. Stricherz is Senator Landrieu's demand that the final Senate bill funnel $300 million in federal subsidies to her state.  To be principled, it seems, and to be courageous, is to hold urgently needed health insurance reform, willed by a majority, hostage to one's individual will to see certain pet demands -- including demands for subsidies -- met by the US Senate. 

Now it of course bears noting that the issue that most exercises Mr. Stricherz -- as well, of course, as Senators Casey and Nelson, though not Landrieu or Lieberman -- is much more than a mere 'pet demand.'  It is a matter of foundational moral concern, about which scores of millions of morally sincere -- might one say 'principled'? -- even if often confused, people have long disagreed and continue to disagree.  But the critical point here is that there is nothing in Senator Casey's refusal thus far to threaten a filibuster on behalf of the Nelson amendment, in the manner that people like Landrieu and Lieberman have done on behalf of their own demands, that warrants the attribution of unprincipled opportunism or cowardice to him, much less the accusation that he is 'lukewarm' or 'tepid' in his opposition to abortion.  Quite the contrary; I think it is at least as likely -- and indeed much more likely -- that Senator Casey is activated by high principle and admirable courage.

I'll quickly substantiate that suggestion with two examples, both of which figure at least obliquely in Mr. Stricherz's post. 

First, as Mr. Stricherz notes, Senator Casey voted in favor of Senator Nelson's proffered amendment to the Senate bill, which would have introduced a counterpart, to this bill, of the hotly contested Stupak amendment made to the House bill.  That itself constitutes a principled stance, as even opponents of the Nelson amendment would likely admit.  It might be a stance on behalf of the wrong principle, in opponents' eyes, but it is not for that unprincipled.  Moreover takes something an awful lot like courage to take such a stand as that, when s/he who takes it is a member of a political party in the eyes of most of whose members Stupak itself was, justifiably or not, an outrage.  An opportunistic Senate Democrat would have declined to offer any support at all for the Nelson amendment.

Second, as Mr. Stricherz and I suspect all MoJ readers now surely appreciate, the Stupak amendment -- and a fortiori, presumably, the Nelson amendment -- quite possibly (if not likely) fail the test of abortion-neutrality.  And the latter is the acknowledged desideratum of all people of good will -- abortion opponents and 'choice' proponents alike -- who wish realistically to see a more just and less costly system of health insurance put into place now, while leaving the much more fraught and presently unresolvable matter of abortion to continue contested in the same fora as it has been to the present.  Hence one can have very good, principled reasons, even as an ardent opponent of abortion, of Roe v. Wade, and of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, not only for refraining from filibustering a health insurance reform bill on behalf of the Nelson amendment, but even for opposing the Nelson amendment.  

In short, then, if health insurance reform is independently compelling from a Catholic social justice point of view, and if it can only be had by severing it from the equally or more compelling question of abortion, then there are perfectly good grounds, sounding in principles cognate to those that often go under the name of 'subsidiarity,' upon which either to reject, or to support only with misgivings, something like a Nelson amendment, while adamently refraining from threatening to obstruct the good will of the majority in favor of health insurance reform unless that majority signs onto that non-neutral amendment. 

Senator Casey, then, might very well have very good principled reasons, which he harbors and acts upon with great moral courage, for not joining such hostage-takers as Landrieu and Lieberman.  And I think that familiar canons of charitable interpretation militate in favor of our attributing motives underwritten by precisely such reasons to Senator Casey.  I for my part have no doubt about his earnestness.

Thanks for listening,




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