U.S.

Supreme Court rulings, justice nomination stir strong emotions

By Catholic News Service and Chicago Catholic
July 11, 2018

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is urging U.S. senators not to use the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion as a litmus test for confirming judicial nominees. He sent a letter on the issue to lawmakers July 6. (CNS photo/Leah Millis, Reuters)

The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops urged U.S. senators July 6 not to support using the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion as a litmus test for confirming judicial nominees.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston wrote to members of the Senate, which will soon begin deliberations on President Donald Trump’s nominee to fill the vacancy being left on the Supreme Court by the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Trump announced July 9 that his nominee for the Supreme Court is Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge in Washington and a Catholic who once clerked Kennedy. Kavanaugh, like Justice Neil Gorsuch, attended Georgetown Prep, a Jesuit boys school in Maryland. 

Cardinal DiNardo’s letter emphasizes that the USCCB “does not support or oppose confirmation of particular presidential nominees.”

But he said he has “grave concerns about the confirmation process ... being grossly distorted by efforts to subject judicial nominees to a litmus test in support of Roe, as though nominees who oppose the purposeful taking of innocent human life are somehow unfit for judicial office in the United States.”

“By any measure,” Cardinal DiNardo said, “support for Roe is an impoverished standard for assessing judicial ability. For 45 years, Roe has sparked more informed criticism and public resistance than any other court decision of the late 20th century.”

Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, said the next justice is likely to also help the Supreme Court decide cases having to do with the Affordable Care Act and more religious freedom cases.  

Meanwhile, Catholic leaders had mixed reactions to several cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court during the last week of its session in June. 

Big cases this year involved the president’s travel ban, a same-sex wedding cake, gerrymandering, sports betting, cellphone tracking, union dues and pro-life pregnancy centers.

Catholic Church leaders weighed in on many of these cases, submitting friend-of-the-court briefs and issuing statements after the decisions were announced. Catholic newspaper editorials addressed sports betting and Catholic advocates spoke up on the court’s actions on the death penalty.
The court, near the end of this term, announced its 5-4 decision upholding Trump’s travel ban preventing people entering the U.S. from some Muslim-majority countries.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Legal Immigration Network expressed disappointment with the ruling and also had filed a combined friend-of-the court brief with harsh criticism of the president’s order, saying it showed “blatant religious discrimination” and was a major threat to religious liberty.

In the case of the same-sex wedding cake, the U.S. bishops sided with the court’s 7-2 decision in favor of the Colorado baker who cited religious beliefs in declining to make the wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The narrow ruling said the baker’s religious freedom had been violated by the state’s Civil Rights Commission, but it did not determine if a small business can invoke federal free-speech and religious-exercise rights to deny services to same-sex couples.

The Catholic bishops also sided with the court’s 5-4 ruling that a California law requiring pregnancy centers to tell patients about the availability of state-funded abortion services violated the First Amendment.

That decision was applauded by Aid for Women, a Chicago-based organization that has crisis pregnancy centers and residential programs for pregnant and new mothers in need of help.

“Aid for Women is especially grateful for this decision because it sets a precedent to strike down Illinois legislation currently in state court,” the organization said in a statement. “The California law at the heart of the Supreme Court case endangered the life-saving vocation of the state’s pregnancy help centers by forcing them to violate their free speech rights by posting notices informing their clients about the availability of abortion. Aid for Women and other pregnancy help centers exist solely to provide a refuge for women struggling with whether to give life or end it. We are grateful the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the need to safeguard our free speech rights as guaranteed by the First Amendment.”

Gilligan said the Supreme Court ruling does not mean the Aid for Women case is over.

“It’s certainly better for Aid for Women that it was decided that way, but the attorney general (of Illinois) is not going to give up and go away.”

The USCCB disagreed with the court’s 5-4 decision in the case about union dues where the court overruled its previous decision allowing state agencies to require their union-represented employees to pay fees to the union for collective bargaining costs even if they are not union members.

One case that might have seemed under the radar for Catholic leaders was the 6-3 ruling that cleared the way for states to legalize sports betting, striking down a 1992 federal law, but editorials in at least two Catholic archdiocesan newspapers warned about some potential dangers of this decision.

Catholic New York, archdiocesan newspaper of New York, and The Catholic Spirit, archdiocesan newspaper of St. Paul and Minneapolis, both pointed out how the ruling could bring about an increase in  addiction to gambling.

In a death penalty case, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of a Texas death-row inmate, ordering a federal appellate court to reconsider his requests for funding to investigate his claims of mental illness and substance abuse. 

This decision, along with the statements made when the court announced it would not take up the case of an Arizona death-row inmate challenging the state’s capital punishment law, shows the court is taking notice of flaws in the death penalty, said Karen Clifton, executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network.

In its next session, the court already has agreed to three death penalty cases.

In other abortion decisions, the justices threw out a lower court’s ruling that allowed a 17-year-old last year to obtain an abortion while she was in a detention center after an illegal border crossing. The court also said it would not hear a case against an Arkansas abortion law, thus letting the state’s restrictions on abortion-inducing drugs stand.

As the court catches its breath from the end of the busy term and awaits the transition period of its replacement for Kennedy, many of the justices will at least be able to get away from Washington with temporary teaching posts.

The scotusblog, a blog about the Supreme Court, reports that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be a guest lecturer in Rome for the summer law program of Loyola University Chicago and Justice Neil Gorsuch will teach two courses in national security law for the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University’s summer session in Padua, Italy. Justice Stephen Breyer is scheduled to give a talk at the Aspen Institute in Colorado in July.

 

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  • us supreme court

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