In Dicta

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Catholics and the Supreme Court

"It is, in many ways, a triumph of assimilation, a marker in the political ascendancy of American Catholics: After more than a century when there was typically only one "Catholic seat" on the Supreme Court, Judge John G. Roberts, if he is confirmed next month, will become the fourth Catholic on the court.

So why is there so much simmering tension about Judge Roberts's religion and the role it should - or should not - play in his coming confirmation process?

Religious conservatives contend that liberal Senate Democrats are trying to keep "people of faith" off the federal bench. Some Catholic conservatives quickly declared that any questions about Judge Roberts's beliefs were utterly out of line. Democratic leaders, for their part, angrily deny that they are the ones injecting religion into the debate, and take particular offense at being accused of anti-Catholicism, since many of them are Catholics themselves.

All this fury is largely pre-emptive; Democratic leaders say they have no intention of grilling Judge Roberts on his religious beliefs (which several of them share) in next month's confirmation hearing. But the role of religion in the public square - for voters and public officials - is one of the most contentious debates around these days. And the influence of a judge's faith and personal beliefs may be growing just as contentious, as abortion, gay rights and other social issues come increasingly under the purview of the courts.

Which leads to the question: how relevant are a nominee's religious views? Friends and political allies have described Judge Roberts's active and conservative brand of Catholicism, which he shares with his wife, Jane Sullivan Roberts, as an important part of their lives. Many social conservatives clearly took his religious background as a positive sign about his judicial and political philosophy. But any deeper probing of his religious views and their implications for his rulings strikes some Catholics as reminiscent of a more prejudiced time."

From The New York Times.

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