There seem to be increasing doubts, among many on the political left, that U.S. Catholics are sufficiently respectful of America's constitutional system to be able to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. There are, of course, partisan reasons for this. The ongoing efforts to find something wrong with President Bush's current choice for the vacancy on the Court, John Roberts, have failed to uncover anything sufficiently damning to give Democrats a pretext for filibustering his nomination or turning moderate Republicans against him. Hence the focus has turned—rather desperately, I think—to his religious beliefs and the beliefs of his wife.
This past weekend, the New York Times reports, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin asked Judge Roberts directly whether he could uphold the Constitution.
"An opinion-page article in The Los Angeles Times on Monday by Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor, included an account of Mr. Durbin's question. Professor Turley cited unnamed sources saying that Judge Roberts had told Mr. Durbin he would recuse himself from cases involving abortion, the death penalty or other subjects where Catholic teaching and civil law can clash.
"A spokesman for Mr. Durbin and Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, who spoke to Judge Roberts on Monday about the meeting, said Professor Turley's account of a recusal statement was inaccurate.
"But in an interview last night, Professor Turley said Mr. Durbin himself had described the conversation to him on Sunday morning, including the statement about recusal. Whatever the conversation in the senator's office on Friday, Mr. Durbin's question hit the fault line between liberal anxiety about theocratic intolerance and conservative fears about hostility to religion."
Durbin, however, would not confirm Turley's claim, and an aide cast doubt on the professor's interpretation of his conversation with Sen. Durbin, according to the Times:
"Mr. Durbin declined to discuss the issue on Monday. A spokesman, Joe Shoemaker, said, 'What Judge Roberts did say clearly and repeatedly was that he would follow the rule of law, and beyond that we are going to leave it to Judge Roberts to offer his views.'"
What I find fascinating here is the readiness to believe that membership in a church that has 65 million members in this country is sufficient to cast doubt on a person's devotion to their nation's constitutional principles. The Times story reports, however, that at least one major political activist on the left finds that conclusion to be unfair:
"Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way said, conservatives were 'laying a foundation or somehow setting up a dynamic that if you are against John Roberts you are somehow anti-Catholic, and that is just pure poppycock.'"
But if there's nothing else particularly wrong with him, and people keep asking him about his religious beliefs, and then they say that they oppose confirmation of him for the Supreme Court, one can hardly blame Catholics for concluding something from that.
Unless, of course, it is all about abortion after all.
It would seem unwise for politicians in most states to offend Catholics by using religion as a stalking horse for abortion opinions.
In which case, I should respectfully suggest that the opponents of Roberts' confirmation simply come out and say that they will oppose any nominee who does not explicitly say that he or she will support Roe v. Wade with no alterations and no exceptions. Then, let the voters decide what to do about it when Senators from both sides of the argument face reelection. That is how a representative democracy is supposed to work, isn't it?