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.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Not being frightened of the terrible

Pope Benedict XVI, presiding at vespers for the first Sunday of Advent in St. Peter's Basilica this past weekend, spoke movingly about the value of all human life, giving every human being:  "the right not to be treated as an object to be possessed or as a thing that can be manipulated at will, not to be reduced to a pure instrument for other's advantage and interests."  Further, "In regard to the embryo in the maternal womb, science itself provides evidence of its automony, capable of interaction with the mother, the coordination of biological processes, the continuity of development, the growth in the complexity of the organism.  It is not a matter of an aggergate of biological material, but of a new living, dynamic and marvelously ordered being, a new individual of the human species."

I came away from the recent Princeton abortion conference last discussed on MOJ here (I think) profoundly discouraged, precisely because I was confronted with how radically we, as a society, have rejected the truth of what the Holy Father was saying last Saturday.  This is demonstrated by the myriad ways in which we have organized our medical practices, our laws (or lack of laws) governing 'reproductive rights' and medical interventions in conception, and our expectations about child-bearing.  It seemed to me, coming away from that conference, that the train is already so far from the station on so many fundamental issues related to the abortion debate that there is simply no way to correct course.  Iwas very discouraged about the prospect of an inevitably ever-more frightening world.

The same time I read Pope Benedict's sermon, though, I also received an e-mail with this quote from Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche.  Maybe it's comforting?   I'm not sure, but it seems perhaps true.

In twenty years you’ll probably find a world which is even more beautiful and even more terrible, because that’s the history of humanity. There’ll be more and more people coming together across the boundaries of ecumenism and interfaith, but also more and more terrible things. So the question is not to be frightened by the terrible but to believe incredibly in yourself and to be part of the beautiful.


November 29, 2010 in Schiltz, Elizabeth | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Long live reason! Return to the Scriptures, America!

Atheists billboard 

Apparently, the American Atheists have grown tired of being falsely accused of waging a "war on Christmas," and thus have decided to do something to warrant such accusations by launching a direct attack on the holiday, erecting this billboard on the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel.  Judging by the billboard, at least, their attack is a bit toothless.  I hope that every Christian will stand together in support of the billboard's claim.  The notion that the Magi visited Christ as an infant in the manger is, of course, a myth.  A reading perfectly compatible with "reason" is found in an ancient source often disregarded by modern-day Christians.  See, e.g., Matthew 2:11 (referring to Magi visiting Mary and "child"), 2:16 ("When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.").  Thank you to the American Atheists for helping bring attention to our nation's woeful level of biblical illiteracy.

November 29, 2010 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | Comments (29) | TrackBack (0)

"Who Needs Marriage? Kids Do"

Attorney and commentator Jennifer Braceras has an op-ed in today's Boston Herald responding to Time Magizine's recent cover story entitled "Who Needs Marriage" and a recent Pew Study on the state of marriage and out of wedlock births in the United States.  If she is correct in her assessment, as I think she is, what can be done about this crisis and what role can - should - law play?

November 29, 2010 in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)

"Secular Winds"

Perry Dane has a post on the Law, Religion, and Ethics that will be of interest to our readers.

Dane concludes:

This is a legal and political — and not only a religious — blog, so there should be (I guess) a legal and political take-away.  If there is, it might go something like this, however trite:  The relation of religion and the secular state, and of religion and law, must navigate between two dangers.  One is that religion will be co-opted, which is to say that it will become “secularized,” open to being oppressed and itself oppressive.  The other danger is that religion will be entirely banished from the public realm, leaving only “howling clouds of ash.”

November 29, 2010 in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Immigration and Violence

The CQ Press recently published its annual list of of most dangerous and least dangerous cities in the United States.  With the uproar over the supposed link between immigration and violence, especially on our southern border, one would expect that the most violent cities in the U.S. would be on the border and/or cities with high foreign born popolutions.  But, some of the most dangerous cities in the U.S. have small foreign born populations, incuding Detroit (4.8% foreign born), Baltimore (4.6%), Memphis (12.6%), D.C. 12.6%), Atlanta (8.7%).  And, some of the least dangerous cities have high foreign born populations, including El Paso, Texas (26.1%) and San Diego, Ca. (25.7%).  According to CQ Press, the border cities of Brownsville, El Paso, McAllen, Texas are safer than Columbia, Missouri, Lawrence, Kansas and Lincoln, Nebraska.

HT:  Mark Shea

cross posted on ImmgrationProf Blog

November 28, 2010 in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Recusing Judges from Judging Recusals

Just a little chiasmus that came to me upon reading this editorial in the N.Y. Times.  I largely agree with the points about gift giving to judges. The first judge I worked for criticized these boondoggles as unwise.  That always struck me as sensible for judges on any court.

But note how the op-ed seamlessly elides the issue of recusal based on gift giving with all recusal issues.  It makes this move almost exactly as it trains its sights on the U.S. Supreme Court, observing that "[t]here is a growing consensus -- outside the court -- that the justices should change how they handle recusals: requiring a justice to explain any decision to recuse or not, and having a group of justices review each recusal decision."

Setting aside the issue whether such a "consensus" exists (I think Professor Steven Lubet has made this argument recently; I'm unaware that it has generated anything approaching "consensus," even a "growing" one), this seems to me an idea fraught with danger.  There are all kinds of reasons that claimants move to recuse judges from hearing cases.  Some are financial.  Some are personal.  Some are political.  Some are ideological (and, sometimes, when ideological, they may be supported by religious convictions, Catholic and otherwise).  Should (to pick just one example at random) the Defense of Marriage Act ever make it to the Court on constitutional grounds, it would very much surprise me not to see a motion for Justice Scalia to recuse himself from the case -- based on his public comments, the claimant would likely argue that Justice Scalia's impartiality could reasonably be questioned.  

Suppose that Justice Scalia decides that he will not recuse himself from the case.  Or suppose that he decides that he will.  Per the editorial's suggestion, he provides a list of reasons.  And now the question of his recusal is reviewed by his colleagues.  Perhaps a 3-justice panel (whom shall we choose)?  Or perhaps the full complement of 8 justices?  If the latter, what happens if we get a 4-4 tie?  Does a tie go to Justice Scalia?  More problematic -- what happens if the 4-4 tie mirrors exactly the way in which the justices vote on the substantive issue of DOMA's constitutionality?  It would seem that by opting for this procedure, the justices might be tempted to judge the merits sub silentio and a little prematurely; at the very least, the appearance of impartiality as to the entire Court might suffer more than a little.  

Another thought: would we permit motions to recuse certain justices from judging the propriety of a decision not to recuse -- recusing judges from judging recusals?  Could DOMA supporters move to recuse a justice who had said negative things about DOMA in the press from considering Justice Scalia's refusal to recuse himself?  If we did permit those types of motions, could we also have further proceedings where a panel of judges considered a justice's decision not to recuse herself from considering the appeal of a justice who didn't recuse himself from the merits?  I'd guess most people might reject that sort of review as excessive.  But having proceeded down this path, what now makes this collateral review out of bounds -- one step too far?

I understand that it would be wonderful if justices recused themselves based on our own individual sense of when their impartiality could reasonably be questioned.  And I also recognize that recusal standards are frustratingly vague, and that the current process gives off the whiff of unaccountability.  But thoroughly politicizing the recusal process by demanding that other justices pronounce judgment on their colleagues' recusal decisions seems to me a bad idea.  It is a reform that, though surely offered with good intentions, is fraught with the possibility of gamesmanship and politicized tit-for-tat strategizing.  If adopted, I think it is likely to damage the judiciary, and to exacerbate problems that it already confronts.    

November 28, 2010 in DeGirolami, Marc | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Thanksgiving proclamation (1863)

Here (thanks to First Things) is Pres. Lincoln:

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict, while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. . .

November 25, 2010 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Criminal Law and Catholic Social Thought

For those who are interested in criminal law, the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law is a relatively new peer reviewed periodical that publishes shorter and less heavily footnoted interventions than one generally finds in other legal journals.  In the latest issue, I've got a brief reaction piece to Professor Anders Walker's interesting article a couple of issues back.  Walker discusses the origins of the criminal law casebook as it largely exists today and offers some prescriptions for change to the course, among which are an increasing, if not exclusive, focus on case law and a concerted movement away from more theoretical discussion about the purposes, functions, and justifications of criminal prohibition and punishment.  As I note in my response, Walker's prescriptions are in keeping with much that is now in vogue in legal education reform, and I suggest some reasons for skepticism about what Walker advocates.  (For a very different response to Walker's article that, while touching on distinct issues, is more sympathetic to it and well worth reading, see Professor Chad Flanders's piece).  

The exchange got me thinking about the range of connections between Criminal Law and Catholic Social Thought, a seminar I just taught for the first time at St. John's.  One could approach the question of connections between the two in a number of ways: a first might be substantive -- for example, involving issues like the legal and moral propriety of the death penalty, or the range of reasons why it might be legitimate to punish someone.  Another might compare the ways in which ideas of "rights" as compared with ideas about "human dignity" shape the way that we think about the function of criminal law.  A third, if the course is approached more distinctly from the point of view of what "social justice" demands, might be to ask questions about whether criminal law is (or is capable of) providing it.  Yet another -- one that occurred to me as I read Russell Powell's post below -- is about the relationship of crucial terms like "complicity" in criminal law (what gives rise to accomplice liability) and "complicity" as it is used more commonly, or even from a theological point of view.

But the connection that I want to focus on here is more a meta-question.  It is the question of why it is that a course like Catholic Social Thought and the Law, or Criminal Law, ought to be worth studying at all in law school. 

Continue reading

November 24, 2010 in DeGirolami, Marc | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

The Gift of Years: So You're Getting Older

Yesterday, Susan Stabile in reflecting on the End Times observed that one problem with predictions about the end of the world (aside from their unreliability) is that they encourage people to stop pressing for the Kingdom of God on earth. Her post reminded me of  Joan Chittister’s outstanding book The Gift of Years: Growing Old Gracefully. Chittister speaks to many groups in this book, but she particularly addresses the old person who has retired, who has lost identity and tight connections to the workplace, who is painfully aware that death is much closer than she would like it to be, and who thinks that her real life is over. Chittister regards this as dying in spirit while physically alive. She maintains that old age should be a time of adventure, a time to do things you never have done before, a time of responsibility, a time to help others in ways you could not do before and a time to share the wisdom gathered by so many years of experience, a time of wonder and thanksgiving, a time to appreciate the beauty of creation and the gift of life left to be lived. Chittister argues that old age is special not only as a new stage in life, but also because there is no escaping the need to confront the meaning of life by being caught up in the competitive distractions of the drive for money, status, and power in the workaday world. Old age is a time to deepen the spirituality developed or ill-developed over a lifetime.

The book also speaks to those who are not yet old. It has wise things to say about the preparation for old age, about the meaning of life and spiritual depth, and, although she does not mention it, I think that it has something to say about how a Christian should approach the Sabbath. But this is not a Christian book in its focus (though Chittister is a Catholic and all Christians should find it appealing). As Tikkun editor, Michael Lerner writes, “The Gift of Years is an amazing compendium of wisdom not only for people facing aging or providing support, but for everyone who wants to live a spiritually centered and balanced life.”   

November 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)


There is a drive for a ballot initiative in San Francisco that would make the performance of a circumcision on a minor illegal "except where "the operation is necessary to the physical health of the person on whom it is performed because of a clear, compelling, and immediate medical need with no less-destructive alternative treatment available."  There is no religious exemption in the proposed language.

Paul Horowitz expresses the view that the initiative would likely pass constitutional muster despite its disproporationate effect on those who seek circumcision for religious reasons.  He also raises the question, I think an important one, of whether this is wise policy. 

November 24, 2010 in Stabile, Susan | Permalink | Comments (25) | TrackBack (0)