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Friday, July 22, 2005


LAW AND RELIGION: THE SUPREME COURT and HOLY CROSS CONNECTION 

If Judge Roberts serves on the Supreme Court, then three justices will have family ties to Holy Cross, a small, liberal arts Catholic college in Massachusetts - But will the Catholic faith of John Roberts be a sore spot for rabid liberal groups?

"Jane Sullivan Roberts, front left, was co-chair of a 2002 Holy Cross alumni dinner at the Supreme Court." - Washington Post

There has been discussion that Judge John Roberts, if confirmed for the Supreme Court, will join five Justices who went to Harvard Law School. This is what Matthew Franck wrote in National Review's "Bench Memos"

[NR]: With the addition of Roberts to the Court, five of the nine
justices will have their law degrees from Harvard, the others being Scalia,
Kennedy, Souter, and Breyer. A sixth justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, began
at Harvard but transferred to Columbia. The others? Thomas graduated from
Yale's law school, and only Rehnquist (from Stanford) and Stevens (from
Northwestern) graduated from law schools too far west to smell the Atlantic Ocean.


However, what has not been discussed much is the connection of three Supreme Court justices (Roberts included) to a small, Catholic liberal arts college in Massachusetts, the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester. Justice Clarence Thomas graduated from Holy Cross in 1971. The wife of Judge Roberts, Jane Sullivan Roberts, went to Holy Cross. Justice Antonin Scalia's son, Paul Scalia, went to Holy Cross and is now a Roman Catholic priest in Virginia. In fact, many media reports say Fr. Paul Scalia counselled and helped Justice Thomas return to his Catholic faith a few years ago.

The New York Times briefly alluded to how the Thomas and Roberts families know each other through Holy Cross.

The Robertses frequently attend events at the College of the Holy Cross, in Worcester, Mass. Jane Roberts is a graduate of the school and has been a trustee for the last four years.

"They are devout Catholics," said the Rev. Michael C. McFarland, the college president. "They are not the kind of people who would be in your face," he added. Their religion "would affect their personal lives, but they are very professional in their work."

Mr. Coffin said that after the Robertses married nine years ago when they were both in their 40's, they tried to have children. After a several failed adoption efforts, he said, they "got lucky" with two children, Josephine and John, now 5 and 4.

In a sign of just how small the elite world of the Supreme Court bar and bench can be, the Robertses have attended Holy Cross events with Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, Virginia, according to Father McFarland. Justice Thomas is also an alumnus of Holy Cross and a trustee.

"I know they know each other," said Father McFarland, but he added he didn't know "how well." Both couples, the Holy Cross president said, know Msgr. Peter Vaghi, who married the Robertses in 1996 in Washington and now is the pastor at the Bethesda church where the Robertses worship.


When everyone knew that President Bush had decided on a nominee for the Supreme Court, but didn't know who that nominee was, speculation was rampant. Did the president choose a woman? A Latino? A Latino woman? An Eskimo? Nobody knew. Curiously, race, ethnicity and gender are still excitable characteristics that our so-called modern, enlightened society wants to discuss when considering who is going to be named the next Supreme Court justice. However, no one wondered about the religion of the nominee. No one asked or wondered if the President decided to name a Jewish, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, Catholic, agnostic or atheist nominee. The President chose Judge John Roberts. Yes, he is a white male. But he is also a Roman Catholic. Does it matter that he's white? That he's a man? That he's Roman Catholic? Nationally known interest groups complained that Judge Roberts is a white male. No one complained that he's a Roman Catholic. That is, they haven't complained yet.

As the focus turns away from what John Roberts is to who he is, will his religious beliefs come under scrutiny? Will liberal groups who are pro-abortion and anti-Catholic criticize the Holy Cross connection among the Supreme Court justices? If so, I wonder if those liberal groups will pressure liberal Catholic senators to prod Roberts on his Catholic faith. After all, they know that Roberts won't answer questions about specific cases and views on issues. But, will Democratic senators, eager and pressured to please intolerant interest groups, try to get around a Roberts roadblock by questioning whether his Catholic faith is an impediment to fairness as a judge?

The confirmation process for Republican Supreme Court nominees has become especially nasty (see Robert Bork, Douglas Ginsburg, Clarence Thomas even Anthony Kennedy and David Souter). John Roberts might land in the cross-hairs, too. This is what David Brooks wrote in his op-ed piece, "A Competent Conservative", for the New York Times.

Confirmation battles have come to seem of late like occasions for bitterly divided Catholics to turn political battles into holy war Armageddons. Most of the main Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are Catholics who are liberal or moderate (Kennedy, Biden, Durbin, Leahy), and many of the most controversial judges or nominees are Catholics who are conservative (Scalia, Thomas, Pryor). When they face off, you get this brutal and elemental conflict over the role morality should play in public life.

Roberts is indeed a Catholic (if he's confirmed, there will be four on the court, three Protestants and two Jews), but he's not the sort to spark the sort of debate that leads to bitter Catholic vs. Catholic meshugas. He's not a holy warrior, and his wife is active in the culturally heterodox Feminists for Life.


Suddenly, Supreme Court nominee spouses are fair game. (Can you name one spouse of a sitting Justice?) The current nominee's wife, Jane Sullivan Roberts, is the focus of a Washington Post article that highlights her involvement with Feminists for Life.

By the most extreme stereotypes of the political landscape, being a committed, self-described feminist and being strongly antiabortion are irreconcilable opposites. But throughout her life, Sullivan, who became the wife of Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts, has lived in that small slice of the Venn diagram where these two circles overlap. She was not available for comment for this story.


Liberal pro-abortion groups like NARAL and NOW can capitalize on their frequent media appearances by only harping on one-half of Mrs. Roberts' "Venn diagram." By stressing she is a devout Catholic woman who is pro-life they will obscure the fact she is a feminist who is concerned about women in ways these political aggrandizers are not.

The prospect of a devout Catholic holding a position of power is abhorrent for the vocal elites who are able to monopolize discourse in the mainstream media. Those who support Judge Roberts, and those who don't support him but are not horrified by religious people having a voice in our society, must pay attention to the way Judge Roberts will be treated over the next few months. The confirmation process can not be sullied by those who will try to exploit the "Holy Cross connection" by disqualifying Judge Roberts via his religious beliefs because they are unable to assail his impeccable academic and professional record of accomplishment.

Bench Memos on National Review Online: The Harvard Majority

NYTimes: Court Nominee's Life Is Rooted in Faith and Respect for Law

NYTimes: "A Competent Conservative" by David Brooks

Washington Post: Nominee's Wife Is A Feminist After Her Own Heart

***Update: Mirror of Justice has a great roundup of debate and discussion on the role of Catholic Judges

1) Judge Roberts and the Rule of Law

2) More Questions about Catholic Judges and the Rule of Law

3) Catholic Judge

There are more great articles and points of wisdom at Mirror of Justice


National Review Online's "Bench Memos" has a running debate on how nominees should answer during confirmation hearings

1) Mark Levin; Questions
2) Matthew Franck: Re: Questions
3) Robert Alt: Don't Answer That Question
4) Prof. Gerard Bradley: Re: the case of Alt v. Franck

Other blogs discussing Judge John Roberts and issues surrounding his nomination, Red State, RW News on "power sharing", Blogs for Bush on the confirmation process, OTB linkfest, Outside the Beltway, Captains Quarters on racial/gender politics for SCOTUS picks, Wizbang on fake liberal outrage, and Michelle Malkin.

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