Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Justices Genuflect Toward Rome
by Pa Rock
I am old enough to remember how scared and outraged Protestant ministers in the Midwest were when John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, was running for President. Many tried to instill terror in their congregations with dire warnings that if Kennedy was elected, he would take his orders from the Pope in Rome.
Well, that didn’t happen. Kennedy was elected, and the Vatican did not establish a branch office in the West Wing as many feared would happen.
Now it looks as though the Catholic Church may have gotten lucky with regard to another branch of government. Six members of the current Supreme Court of the United States are Catholic – and the remaining three are Jewish. Protestants, once the predominant religious element throughout American government, are no longer represented in the membership of the highest court in the land.
Five of the six Catholic justices were appointed by Republican Presidents, undoubtedly for their staunch conservative values, often the same values held dear by their church. One such example of these shared values became apparent yesterday when an abortion-related matter came before the Court.
The issue originated in Texas when Governor Hair-do managed to get an abortion-limiting bill passed through a special session of the Texas legislature last summer. That bill requires that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges in a nearby hospital. While that may sound like an appropriate safety measure, local hospitals often have local political pressures that keep them from granting privileges to doctors who provide abortions – and some of the hospitals are owned and operated by churches with strong anti-abortion biases and policies. The actual result of this piece of “safety” legislation would be to end the procedure in a third of the state’s 36 clinics that provide abortions. Opponents of the law contend that it would prevent 20,000 women a year from having access to safe abortions.
The law was quickly blocked by a federal judge, and last month his action was provisionally overridden by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The Appeals Court will hear formal arguments in the case next January and will make a ruling at that time, but for the time-being they let it stay in effect. Meanwhile, opponents of the law approached the U.S. Supreme Court with an emergency application asking that it block the law from taking effect.
Five Supremes – all Catholic and all appointed by Republican Presidents – declined to block the odious Texas law. Significantly, none of the three women on the Court, including one who is a Catholic, were among the majority.
Men, it would seem, continue to know what is best for women – just ask them. And the Church in Rome, while it does not appoint justices, is having a profound influence on American politics. Perhaps those dire warnings of fifty years ago weren’t completely wrong – just premature.