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, July 29, 2021

Newsweek on Mike Pence

This recent article in Newsweek about former Vice President Mike Pence strikes me as that increasingly rare thing in contemporary journalism--an account of a controversial political figure that is actually fair and balanced.


The former Vice President is an old friend of mine. We were introduced to each other many years ago by Chuck Colson. Pence was, at the time a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He would later become Governor of Indiana before being chosen by Donald Trump as his running mate in 2016.

Our friendship notwithstanding, I have not hesitated to criticize Vice President Pence--even criticize him harshly--when I believed he was wrong, The best example occurred during his Governorship after the Indiana legislature had passed and the Governor had signed into law a Religious Freedom Restoration Act. I had supported the Act despite believing that it was regrettably weak. My hope was that it would later be revised to be made more robust in protecting religious liberty rights. Things quickly went in the other direction, though. Secular progressives, especially those hostile to traditional religious beliefs about marriage and sexual morality, attacked the Act and demanded its repeal. Various major corporations and other powerful interests were induced to do their bidding, and threatened to essentially boycott Indiana as a means of bullying Pence and the state's legislative leaders into repealing it. I and many other religious freedom advocates urged them to stand strong. In the end, however, the Governor capitulated--announcing, rather pathetically, in my view, that "Indiana is open for business again."

I regarded this capitulation as shameful, and publicly called for someone to challenge and defeat Governor Pence in the Republican primary when he sought re-election. Not long thereafter, the Governor asked to speak with me and we had a long and very frank telephone conversation. He asked that we treat what had happened as water under the bridge and discuss what he and those allied with him in Indiana could do going forward to protect religious liberty rights. The steps he went on to take were good ones, and I publicly commended him for them.

I was not a supporter of Donald Trump, but I was sincere in congratulating Governor Pence when he became Vice President. I was glad he was there. Later, I would become very glad he was there. Although he was as loyal to his President as any Vice President has ever been, when he was asked to choose between personal loyalty to the President and loyalty to the Constitution of the United States, he chose correctly. The well-known fact of his personal loyalty to the President was actually an asset when he was forced by constitutional duty to deny the President's request that he use his office to, in effect,  prevent the certification of the election of Joseph Biden as President of the United States. Of course, this caused some especially fierce Trump loyalists to denounce the Vice President as a "traitor"; some of the invaders of the Capitol on January 6, 2021 even called for him to be "hanged."

The essay to which I've linked here is probably right in suggesting that it's tough to see the presidency in Mike Pence's future. Donald Trump will not forgive him, and the former President still has the support of a far from insignificant number of Americans who believe, wrongly in my view, that the election was "stolen" and that Joe Biden is not the legitimately elected President of the United States. Among those who are grateful for Pence's loyalty to the Constitution and admiring of his willingness to refuse to be pressured into compromising it, many are progressives or liberals who regard him as far too socially conservative to be eligible for their support.

Of course, we don't yet know whether the former Vice President will even compete for the Republican nomination in 2024. I strongly suspect that he would like to do that, and is even now trying to identify a pathway to the goal. And, of course, there is the $64,000 question of whether Donald Trump himself will try again, and, if so, whether he has a lock on the nomination. Whether he does or doesn't, there are quite a few plausible potential Republican candidates in addition to Pence, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is almost certainly going to run, and Florida Governor Ron DiSantis. Whether or not Pence runs, and, if he runs, wins, the nomination and the presidency, he showed himself to be a principled man and a patriot in doing what he did on January 6th. I say this as someone who did not support Biden for President and who regrets that he holds the office (though I didn't vote for Trump either), and who, as I've noted here, was harsh in my own criticism of Pence when I believed he had acted in an unprincipled and craven manner.


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