Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Catholic & Evangelical Leaders Call Foul on Conflict of Interest Questions

Religious leaders from Catholic and Evangelical Christian denominations complained that Supreme Court nominee John Roberts was asked how he would rule on cases involving issues the Catholic Church considers immoral. Completely disregarding the fact there are many cases in which secular law conflicts with religious doctrine, the clergymen claimed and questioning of the sort was a religious litmus test to prevent devout Christians from imposing religious law above secular law when there is an inconsistency in current case law public service.
Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, states, "It is extremely troubling that Judge Roberts would have to face any religious litmus test concerning his confirmation to the Supreme Court. This sadly reminds us that religious bigotry still exists in America and hearkens back to the days of political witch- hunts and racial discrimination. We would for members of the Senate Judiciary to make a public statement that any questions regarding Judge Roberts faith tradition are out of bounds."

Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council, comments, "There is no religious test for office in the United States, but what some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are saying is Judge Roberts, if you want to be on the Supreme Court, you better not take your Christian faith seriously. That's a religious test and this is unconstitutional."

Father Frank Pavone, National director of Priests for Life, responds, "Anyone familiar with American history and the United States Constitution should be embarrassed by the suggestion that a nominee for the Supreme Court has to run a religious gauntlet on his way to confirmation. Religious convictions are not excess baggage or obstacles on the road to public service."
Roberts' response was indicative that, unlike the clergymen above, he does recognize that he may well face situations in which secular law and religious doctrine do conflict while sitting on the bench. As a judge, his obligation will be to the country and upholding applicable constitutional law. As a practicing Catholic, his obligation is to adhere to church doctrine. If he were to disregard the US Constitution and rule based on Vatican teaching, he would be violating his obligation to the country and imposing Catholic religious law on non-adherents (a direct violation of the 1st amendment). As reported in the LA Times [emphasis added]
The exchange occurred during one of Roberts' informal discussions with senators last week. According to two people who attended the meeting, Roberts was asked by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) what he would do if the law required a ruling that his church considers immoral. Roberts is a devout Catholic and is married to an ardent pro-life activist. The Catholic Church considers abortion to be a sin, and various church leaders have stated that government officials supporting abortion should be denied religious rites such as communion. (Pope Benedict XVI is often cited as holding this strict view of the merging of a person's faith and public duties).

Renowned for his unflappable style in oral argument, Roberts appeared nonplused and, according to sources in the meeting, answered after a long pause that he would probably have to recuse himself.
Likewise, Roberts would have to consider recusing himself if a case in which Feminists For Life (and organization to which his wife is a prominent member who has supplied her legal advise) or involving either company for which Jane Sullivan Roberts works (or a competitor) because there would be good reason to expect a conflict of interest (even the appearance of such a conflict would be damaging). If Roberts had felt there was no chance for a conflict, he would not have answered by stating he'd probably have to recuse himself. In doing so, he clearly voices an understanding of the question as a legitimate one contradicting the assertions of the 3 clergymen above.

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