Catholics rock the court­house

Orlando Sentinel - - OPINION -

Even be­fore Pres­i­dent Trump an­nounced his nom­i­na­tion Mon­day of fed­eral ap­peals court Judge Brett Ka­vanaugh to fill de­part­ing Jus­tice Anthony Kennedy's slot on the Supreme Court, the foul scent of an­tiCatholi­cism be­gan seep­ing into pub­lic com­men­tary.

In par­tic­u­lar, an ar­ti­cle Mon­day morn­ing that quickly earned ire in the choir came from Daily Beast writer (and Yale Lawe­d­u­cated) Jay Michael­son. While declar­ing that he didn't want to en­gage in anti-pa­pist con­spir­a­cies, Michael­son nev­er­the­less pro­ceeded to sug­gest that an ef­fort is fu­eled by dark money to name fed­eral judges who “re­flect rigid, con­ser­va­tive dogma.” His sub­ject was Leonard Leo, the ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent (al­beit cur­rently on leave) of the Fed­er­al­ist So­ci­ety, which has worked closely with the pres­i­dent in cre­at­ing a list of pos­si­ble nom­i­nees. The well-re­spected Leo is painted by Michael­son as a sin­is­ter, out­side se­cret force push­ing Catholics to fill the bench.

Leo is cer­tainly in­flu­en­tial, but so are lots of peo­ple, and Michael­son's ar­ti­cle was a tad dark­and-stormy-ish. It de­tails Leo's var­i­ous Catholic as­so­ci­a­tions and prac­tices, in­clud­ing his habit of at­tend­ing daily mass -- which many Catholics do, in­clud­ing lib­er­als.

The nar­ra­tive that has been build­ing among some on the left and ex­em­pli­fied by Michael­son's ar­ti­cle seems to go some­thing like this: The Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion process has been out­sourced to a crazy, right-wing group. To the con­trary, the Fed­er­al­ist So­ci­ety is rec­og­nized as the na­tion's fore­most cham­pion of Amer­ica's con­sti­tu­tional prin­ci­ples: Above all, the sovereignty of the peo­ple, the duty of the state to pre­serve their free­dom, and the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers. It is pri­mar­ily a de­bat­ing so­ci­ety that is open and trans­par­ent.

Since reli­gion has be­come a stick­ing point in the Supreme Court se­lec­tion process, pri­mar­ily over fears that Roe vs. Wade might be over­turned (it won't, though whit­tling is likely), it seems fair to men­tion that Michael­son is a Bud­dhist rabbi. For the record, I'm a lapsed Pres­by­te­rian, which isn't pos­si­ble to make in­ter­est­ing much less to sug­gest a com­plex web of fac­tors that cast doubt on my ob­jec­tiv­ity.

Michael­son also may have missed the strong anti-Trump sen­ti­ment among le­gions of Catholics — Trump's ap­proval rat­ing among Catholics was 38 per­cent in Jan­uary — as well as not a few church lead­ers who've crit­i­cized the pres­i­dent.

It is cer­tainly true that ju­rists who re­ceived Je­suit ed­u­ca­tions tend to rise to the top. This is be­cause, as far as I can tell, you can't get a bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion in this coun­try than by the Je­suits. They seem to pro­duce not just test tak­ers but thinkers. As Fran­cis X. Rocca, Vat­i­can cor­re­spon­dent for The Wall Street Journal, tweeted Tues­day: “A Je­suit-ed­u­cated U.S. pres­i­dent (Ford­ham U.) has now nom­i­nated two Je­suit-ed­u­cated men (Ge­orge­town Prep.) to the U.S. Supreme Court. Mean­while, the first Je­suit pope reigns in Rome. In an­other age, con­spir­acy the­o­rists would be the­o­riz­ing.”

There's no ques­tion the bench is heav­ily weighted with lawyers who are also Catholic. Oth­ers in­clude Jus­tice Sa­muel Al­ito, Jus­tice Clarence Thomas, Jus­tice So­nia So­tomayor and Chief Jus­tice John Roberts. Neil Gor­such, who re­placed Jus­tice An­tonin Scalia, also Catholic, at­tends an Epis­co­pal Church but was raised Catholic. If con­firmed, Ka­vanaugh would be Catholic Jus­tice No. 6, leav­ing Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Gins­burg and Elena Ka­gan, all Jewish.

Part of the rea­son­ing be­hind Ka­vanaugh's se­lec­tion over re­ported fi­nal­ist Amy Coney Bar­rett, in ad­di­tion to his be­ing ex­ceed­ingly qual­i­fied, was that he'd likely have an eas­ier, though still dif­fi­cult, time dur­ing Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion. Bar­rett, as many will re­call, was treated to a re­li­gious grilling dur­ing her con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings last year for the fed­eral ap­pel­late judge­ship she cur­rently holds. Her likely dis­ap­point­ment at be­ing passed over for the high­est court was surely buffered some­what by re­lief that she would be spared a re­peat of her last ex­pe­ri­ence when Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, D-Calif., in­fa­mously com­mented that Bar­rett's “dogma lives loudly” in her.

Are we to as­sume that So­tomayor's dogma lives qui­etly rear­rang­ing dusty Bi­bles within her?

It does seem, how­ever, that be­ing Catholic isn't a bad idea if you want to as­cend to the Supreme Court. Then again, it's also a good idea to earn high marks in school, ex­cel at the best law schools, clerk for Supreme Court jus­tices, and live a life of in­tegrity, hon­esty and dig­nity. That some jus­tices are also in­formed by a faith that en­cour­ages ser­vice and a rev­er­ence for life doesn't bother me, just as long as the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion lives loudly within them.

Com­men­tary Kath­leen Parker

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