The death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist is guaranteed to heighten the culture war among an evenly divided electorate. With religious issues at the heart of much of the Supreme Court controversy, it is fascinating how much bile tinges the accusations of both sides—but particularly those who fashion themselves to be more religious by dint of their membership in the Republican Party. Election polling last year suggested that frequent church attendees among Catholics were more likely to be Republican supporters. This has been taken to mean that someone wearing the "faithful Catholic" label, such as Judge John Roberts, will faithfully reinforce the Republican agenda. The Catholic vote is so important to future Republican political success, don't be surprised if the nominee to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is a Catholic woman.
But are "faithful Catholics" truly faithful to our Catholicism? A new study in the journal Foreign Affairs indicates that church attendance is among the strongest single predictors of whether someone supports the Bush War in Iraq, despite our late Pope's having labeled this conflict "a defeat for humanity." Gallup polling data also suggests strong support among this group for the death penalty, with 60% of practicing Catholics in favor of it. Catholic women are 40% more likely to seek abortions compared to Protestant women, according to data published in 1999, despite the Bishops' fervent opposition to abortion. We clearly have a tremendous amount of work to do among ourselves with regard to discovering the central tenet of our faith: that Jesus preached exclusively a gospel of love and self-sacrifice.
Defenders of the use of violence, like the Heritage Foundation-affiliated Catholic League, will argue that we need more violence-accommodating people (like them) on the Supreme Court. The jury is still out in this regard on Judge Roberts, who in his last Appellate Court decision enabled the sham trials that are about to commence under military auspices at Guantanamo Bay. Conservative Catholics may hope for someone who shares their harsh and simplistic view of abortion, but will these nominees have the strength of character to combat all the other occasions where fellow Catholics continue to advocate elements of a culture of death? Will they have the courage to stand up to the cruelty of the death penalty, which society imposes almost exclusively on those who cannot afford legal representation? Will they have the courage to compel the Bush Administration to end its policies of hiding tortured detainees from Congress and from the Red Cross? Will they have the courage to hold the Federal Government accountable for its vast underfunding of special education across the country?
The simultaneous replacement of Chief Justice Rehnquist compels us to ask some truly important questions of both nominees, in the wake of the dramatically consequential Bush v Gore decision over which Rehnquist presided. Regardless of one's political stripe, we must all agree that decision-making cannot be allowed that dispenses with the central principal of the Court's authority, namely the requirement that they provide a meaningful and generalizable rationale for their decisions (missing in Bush v Gore). "Because we say so" simply isn't good enough. In Bush v Gore, the Court never explained why it had the jurisdiction to stop the vote counting in Florida. The criminal conflict of interest of one justice, himself a Catholic whose wife was an employee of the Bush Campaign, has never been addressed by this Court.
Deciding the Florida election for Mr. Bush in a 5-to-4 decision turned out to be one of mammoth consequences, in its empowerment of the advocates of violence who have brought us hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq. Now we are faced with the prospect of possibly hundreds or thousands of deaths in New Orleans because of the absence of needed National Guard troops (many in Iraq) that would have evacuated all the hospitals and poor neighborhoods there after the flood. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the five Supreme Court justices who put Mr. Bush in office in 2000 bear significant responsibility for ignoring the law of unintended consequences that has led to all these deaths.
Pope John Paul II said just before the launching of the failed Bush War in Iraq, "Violence and arms can never resolve the problems of man." We really will have accomplished something if we end up with two new Supreme Court justices who could ratify a judgment like that.