John Roberts and the Catholic Question II
Ramesh Ponnuru responds at length to my post on Christopher Hitchens’ piece on John Roberts’ alleged statement that he would recuse himself from cases where the law and Catholic teaching are in conflict, making some fair points.
I fail to see the distinction in his first point, though:
I didn’t accuse Hitchens of “anti-Catholic bigotry.” I noted that Hitchens’s pre-emptive defense against the charge of anti-Catholic bigotry is that anti-Catholicism is justified by the sinister nature of the church.
Ponnuru’s exact words in the original post were, “Anti-Catholicism isn’t bigotry because it’s justified.” That sure sounds like a charge of anti-Catholic bigotry.
I don’t disagree with Ponnuru’s second point,
[Hitchens] has specific objections that he has outlined in detail. He seems to think the conduct of Cardinal Law is somehow relevant to John Roberts’s fitness to serve on the Supreme Court.
While I agree with Hitchens that the role of the Roman hierarchy in covering up the crimes of a not insubstantial minority of its priests was shameful, it does seem a non-sequitur in this context. But having specific objections to the actions or teachings of a group is rather the opposite of bigotry.
Hitchens’s argument cannot be reduced to the view that papal bulls should have no place in a judge’s decisions–and we have no reason for thinking that Roberts disagrees with that view anyway. Jonathan Turley’s third-hand and vague description of a conversation that the principals deny having had does not constitute a reason.
The context of my analysis was the presumption that Turley’s account was largely correct. I allowed that I was dubious that Roberts would have said what was alleged but that Turley seems a reputable enough fellow. If Roberts indeed said that he would recuse himself in cases where the rulings of his Church contradicted his duties as a judge, however, I find it problematic.
Hitchens’s argument is that the Roman Catholic Church, alone among the faiths from which a president might reasonably appoint a Supreme Court Justice, has essentially said that its members who go against Church teachings in the course of the official course of their duties are to be damned to hell.
Being Catholic is not inconsistent with doing ones judicial duties–Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy have not had to recuse themselves so far as I’m aware–or serving in political life generally. If a person is unable to reconcile himself to putting the law above his religious faith when the two are in conflict, however, then he is unfit to be a judge. Many of the most controversial issues of our time are decided by margins as slim as 5-4. Having a Justice recuse himself whenever those cases arise would be outrageous.
Perhaps Ann Althouse is correct that Roberts is saying nothing different than what Scalia has said on the subject. One certainly hopes so. Certainly, there has been no reason to think him unfit for the Court up until now. The plain meaning of his comments as recorded by Turley, however, suggest something different.