On the Cross

I have an essay about the Bladensburg Cross case at Public Discourse, where I isolate the holding (and wonder about whether there is actually a broader holding in the case), discuss the case’s implications for future religious displays, and speculate about the dynamics on the Supreme Court and elsewhere respecting these issues. A bit:

“The holding of American Legion lays out what could be called a jurisprudence of old religious monuments, symbols, and practices. When a religious monument, symbol, or practice, is old—whether it is a cross or a Ten Commandments monument or some other government practice of long standing—it is especially likely to be imbued with many purposes and messages that have changed and developed with time. Communities are entitled to maintain these religious monuments, symbols, and practices as part of their historical and cultural heritage, and the Court will no longer “roam[] the land, tearing down monuments with religious symbolism and scrubbing away an reference to the divine.” “The passage of time,” the majority said, “gives rise to a strong presumption of constitutionality,” and the Cross in this case clearly enjoys that presumption. It is both a Christian symbol and a symbol of war and patriotism. It is these things together.

Already, this holding works a considerable change in Supreme Court doctrine. It surrounds “old” religious “monuments, symbols, and practices” with a protective shield against judicial mischief in the name of the Establishment Clause. New religious monuments, symbols, and practices whose purposes are manifestly discriminatory, it is true, are not covered by the holding (more on this below), and the terms “new” and “old” are not defined. But the Court’s existing approach to state-sponsored religious displays is quite different. The much-reviled test in Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) focuses on “the” purpose—“religious” or “secular”—of a display, as well as its “primary effect,” which the Court has subsequently interpreted in this context to mean whether a “reasonable observer” would perceive that the government is “endorsing” religion by displaying a monument or symbol. While Justice Kagan believed that the cross also survived under this approach, none of the other justices in the majority accepted Lemon, and all justices in the majority held that “old” displays have neither single purposes nor single meanings. This is flatly incompatible with the assumptions of Lemon.

There is overwhelming support on the Court for what would have been a broader holding. In Part II(A) of Justice Alito’s opinion, a four-justice plurality rejected the Lemon test and its “endorsement” application for these types of religious displays. It was something of a surprise that Justice Breyer joined the plurality. But it was a real shock that this part of Alito’s opinion was not officially joined by Justice Thomas or Justice Gorsuch. Those two justices authored respective concurrences in the judgment, which technically means that while they agree with the outcome, they do not join the Alito opinion’s reasoning. But both of them would have gone further than the plurality and rejected the Lemon test in its entirety. That they did not join Part II(A) rejecting the Lemon test—at least with regard to “old” displays—is baffling. For those who were hoping that something clearer would emerge from this case, it’s also rather exasperating.

Justice Thomas, in fact, goes so far as to say this about the Lemon/endorsement test: “the plurality rightly rejects its relevance to claims, like this one, involving ‘religious references or imagery in public monuments, symbols, mottos, displays, and ceremonies.’ I agree with that aspect of the opinion” (emphasis added). With Thomas, the reasoning in Part II(A) therefore has the explicit support of five justices. But because Thomas did not formally join Part II(A), the statement seems to be dicta, material in an opinion unnecessary to the judgment. Admittedly, the line between dicta and holding is not crystal clear, and the statement could even be read as an alternative holding. Justice Gorsuch’s concurrence in the judgment also has highly critical comments about Lemon, but Justice Thomas’s statement is a clear and explicit affirmation of the plurality’s position.

At any rate, the lesson of American Legion seems to be that the Lemon/endorsement test is rejected—at least for “old” religious monuments, symbols, and practices.”

Peace Cross Puzzlement

The Maryland Bladensburg Cross was allowed to stand. That’s the easy part. The hard part is what precisely prevented the Court–for the second time in as many Establishment Clause cases involving these kinds of issues (see also Town of Greece)–from cobbling together a majority opinion repudiating Lemon/endorsement and offering a new approach, even one limited to religious displays. Instead, we got:

  • a plurality opinion (joined by Justice Breyer) with lots of extremely critical commentary about Lemon/endorsement, but that does not overrule Lemon/endorsement even in this narrow area;
  • one concurrence that would have overruled Lemon/endorsement;
  • one concurrence that preserves Lemon/endorsement;
  • 4-6 votes for a history and tradition approach whose contours vary significantly depending on the justice;
  • two opinions concurring in the judgment that would have overruled Lemon/endorsement;
  • a dissent by Justice Ginsburg joined by Justice Sotomayor.

The puzzle: what prevented a majority from overruling Lemon/endorsement even in this specific area? Does Lemon/endorsement continue to apply in this area where the display is new and/or there is (lots of?) evidence of discriminatory motive? I find it difficult to understand how the extremely critical comments about Lemon/endorsement that four justices put their name to in the plurality, plus the views of another two justices that were ready to overrule Lemon/endorsement altogether, do not add up to some kind of actual overruling. Justice Kagan could certainly have written a concurrence in the judgment. Not to be, I’m afraid. Still, I’ll have more to say about the 4-6 votes for some variety or other of a history/tradition approach soon.

CNBC Story on the Bladensburg Cross Case

I am quoted in this CNBC story on the Bladensburg Cross case up for oral argument next week. The author, Tucker Higgins, put together a nice piece (one tiny quibble: Town of Greece v. Galloway was not decided on the basis of the coercion approach…that part of the opinion did not command a majority) and was good enough to reference and link to this article of mine on religion and the Roberts Court from a few years ago.

My review of Richard Brookhiser’s Biography of John Marshall

I have a review of Richard Brookhiser’s recent John Marshall: The Man Who Made the Supreme Court, at the Liberty Fund site. A bit:

“[T]here is an ambiguity in the book’s subtitle. “The man who made the Supreme Court” might signal Marshall’s outsized role in fashioning the Supreme Court in his own self-image. There are some biographies, as Kevin Walsh has noted in his review in these pages of another recent Marshall book, that read Marshall as a kind of Romantic hero—the American Werther or Cagliostro of the judiciary. But there is another, and perhaps better, interpretation of the subtitle: that distinctive features of Marshall’s character as a man subtly but powerfully influenced the Court’s development under his stewardship.”

Time’s Up for the Endorsement Test?

At the First Things site today, I have a post on The American Legion v. American Humanist Association, the Maryland Peace Cross case, in which the Court granted cert last month. I argue that the Court could use the opportunity to get rid of the endorsement test in Establishment Clause cases. Here’s an excerpt:

Last month, the Supreme Court agreed to consider an important Establishment Clause case from Maryland, The American Legion v. American Humanist Association. The case, which presents a challenge to a Maryland cemetery’s use of a 40-foot cross as a public war memorial, gives the Court a chance to clarify its views on the constitutionality of state-sponsored religious displays. In particular, the case provides an opportunity for the Court to do away with the so-called “endorsement test,” which holds that a display violates the Constitution if a hypothetical, reasonable observer would see it as an endorsement of religion. Conservatives have criticized the endorsement test for decades, and with a new majority on the Court, they may finally have the votes to discard it. American Legion could turn out to be one of the most significant Establishment Clause cases in a long time.

American Legion is also the subject of a recent “Legal Spirits” episode Marc and I recorded. But you have already listened to that. Right?

Movsesian on the Ashers Case

Bristol UniversityAt the Liberty Law site today, I have a post discussing the UK Supreme Court’s ruling this month in Lee v. Ashers Bakery, a wedding-vendor case from Belfast. The British case deals with several substantive issues that our own Supreme Court dodged earlier this year in Masterpiece Cakeshop. The British court’s president, Barbara Hale (left), wrote for a unanimous court:

Even though the issues do not line up exactly, Lady Hale’s opinion addresses many of the difficult questions that arise in the American context as well: whether denying services in connection with gay weddings is equivalent to denying services to gay persons; whether one should attribute certain kinds of commercial speech to the vendor or the customer; and whether the state’s interest in ending discrimination in public places overrides the religious convictions of persons who operate small businesses. The fight over these issues is still in its early stages, in Britain and America. This decision may provide guidance for the way forward.

Readers can find my post here.

The King’s College Tomorrow With Professor David Tubbs

I’m very pleased to be at The King’s College tomorrow in Manhattan, where I’ll be giving a response to Professor David Tubbs’s Constitution Day Lecture: “The Burdens of Constitutional Memory: Slavery, Segregation, and the Supreme Court.” The event is free though RSVP is requested. Hope to see any of the Center’s local readers and followers there!

First Things Supreme Court Roundup: “Kennedy’s Last Term”

Kevin Walsh and I have this year’s Supreme Court roundup at First Things: Kennedy’s Last Term. In the piece we cover some of the major decisions of the last term, including First Amendment cases (Masterpiece, NIFLA, Janus), cases concerning what we call “the influence of social, technological, and moral change on Supreme Court doctrine” (Wayfair, Carpenter, Murphy v. NCAA), and political gerrymandering/judicial limits cases (Gill, Benisek), as well as a short comment on Trump v. Hawaii. 

Something from the conclusion:

What, then, should we expect from the post-Kennedy Court? Perhaps more of the same. There was not a single 5–4 decision this term in which Justice Kennedy joined with the more liberal wing of the Court. That has never before happened on the Roberts Court. And there were fourteen 5–4 cases in which Kennedy joined with the four more conservative justices to form a majority, including First Amendment cases such as Janus and NIFLA, separation of powers cases like Trump v.Hawaii, political process cases involving political and racial gerrymandering, and a range of statutory interpretation and business cases. This record suggests that, should Judge Brett Kavanaugh be confirmed, we ought to expect a fair amount of continuity rather than radical change.

But in other major areas—areas that happen not to have been addressed this term—the change may be more substantial. Consider, for example, the constitutional law of abortion. Here, Kennedy’s replacement might make a difference, particularly if there is a possibility that a Justice Kavanaugh might join with four colleagues in ending the regime of constitutional abortion law initiated by Roe v. Wade.

Social conservatives have been disappointed before. The Court’s first major abortion case after Justice Kennedy joined the Court was the 1989 decision Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, where it seemed there might be five votes to overrule Roe. Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote an opinion for four justices that purported to “modify and narrow” Roe, but Reagan-nominated Justice Sandra Day O’Connor went her own way, introducing the “undue burden” standard that has remained the law until today. Scalia, meanwhile, lamented that this missed opportunity to reverse Roe meant that “the mansion of constitutional abortion law, constructed overnight in Roe, must be disassembled doorjamb by doorjamb, and never entirely brought down, no matter how wrong it may be.” Scalia was farseeing. Four years later, in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, Kennedy joined with O’Connor and Justice David Souter to preserve what they called “the central holding” of Roe.

We are guardedly optimistic that Kavanaugh’s confirmation will eventually result in the rejection of Roe v. Wade. But nobody should expect a quick or complete demolition of constitutional abortion rights. Caution is in order because of both internal Court dynamics and external pressure on the ­institution.

The shift on the new Court should be measured not by the distance between Kennedy and ­Kavanaugh, but between Kennedy and Roberts. On a multi-member Court, the views of the median justice matter most in the close cases implicating the culture wars. And Roberts cares deeply about public perceptions of the Court’s legitimacy. The same concerns that motivate Roberts to embrace minimalism more broadly, as in the cases this term about partisan gerry­mandering and sales taxes, will likely mean even greater caution in these hotter and angrier areas of constitutional law.

Neither should we forget that the result of overruling the Roe/Casey regime is no panacea. It would simply lift restrictions on state legislation. But that is hardly always desirable. We can surely expect some, perhaps many, states to follow the lead of Massachusetts, where legislators passed a NASTY (Negating Archaic Stereotypes Targeting Young) Women Act that repealed abortion restrictions that might in theory have come back into force if Roe/Casey were overturned. New York’s governor has made extensive abortion rights a rallying cry of his campaign for reelection.

Just as the damage done by Roe/Casey is not exclusively legal, neither will it be undone by legal means alone. The Court and dominant cultural opinion shape each other, and the arrow of influence runs in both directions. However much “the mansion of constitutional abortion law” may be dismantled, the constitutional rot at its foundation is the result of powerful cultural forces. Let us not put our trust in judges any more than princes, not only because they are fallible, but also because judges are meant to judge, not to save us from ourselves.

The Proper Response to the Crisis in the Catholic Church: Give the Laity a Role in the Appointment and Removal of Diocesan Bishops

 

consecration of st ambrose as archbishop (1)

The Consecration of Ambrose as Bishop of Milan (Juan Valdes-Leal, 1673)

 

By Robert Delahunty* & Andrew Ratelle**

The past few weeks in the life of the Catholic Church in America are proof of a twelfth century English proverb that “often the end fails to equal the beginning.”

What began some fifteen or more years ago as a series of promised reforms, compounded with yet more promises, has made a full circle return to the point of origin. A prince of the Church has been caught yet again in deeply hypocritical, sinful, and, if not for statutes of limitation, tortious and even criminal behavior. But this time, a coterie of fellow bishops and peers is gathered about him, unable or unwilling to see where the line between charitable forbearance and public condemnation must be drawn. According to the New York Times:

Between 1994 and 2008, multiple reports about the cardinal’s transgressions with adult seminary students were made to American bishops, the pope’s representative in Washington and, finally, Pope Benedict XVI. Two New Jersey dioceses secretly paid settlements, in 2005 and 2007, to two men … for allegations against the archbishop.

And now comes the news of a Pennsylvania grand jury’s findings that in six of the State’s eight dioceses, bishops and other clerical leaders concealed at least one thousand identified cases of child sexual abuse for a period of over seventy years. The grand jury wrote:

“Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability.” …  “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades.”

This is indeed “a spiritual crisis” that cuts deeper with every revelation. It is a “crisis” that goes much deeper than the episcopate seems competent or willing to handle.

The Catholic laity must assume far greater responsibility for the conduct of their bishops and priests, and the hierarchy must give them the tools to do so. Below, we outline a series of lay-led initiatives, ranging from least to most radical, for a project of reform. Most importantly, we recommend that the laity have a greater role in the appointment and removal of diocesan bishops.

The Failure of the Hierarchy

The unfolding story of Cardinal McCarrick’s decades of sexual predation is both dismal and familiar. But those disclosures are not the most dismaying part of the current crisis. What makes the McCarrick matter different is the unbelievable lameness of his fellow bishops’ excuses for their repeated failure to challenge him. Loyal Catholics have been driven to the conclusion that their Church’s hierarchy is utterly compromised. It has proven itself unfit to perform the urgent task of dealing with the rot that it has allowed to fester in its own ranks. The bishops— “good” and “bad” alike—have betrayed the faithful.

In addition to sexual abuse, there are two problems here. One problem is the continuing influence of “bad” bishops, willing to use their power to protect abusers, to promote them, and to marginalize those who would denounce them. The other problem is the silence (or at least the shrugging of the shoulders) of “good” bishops, unwilling to condemn the corrupt practices of their peers. This silence is not always intentional complicity, but it is close enough—a distinction with no real difference.

The American Church, it seems, has its own version of the Deep State, committed to obstructing genuine reform and to punishing those who question its authority.

For the Church to respond to this threat, the laity must now do what the bishops ought to have done years—decades—ago.

We are not talking only about the investigation and correction of priests and bishops who are guilty of sexual abuse. The Church has always had such priests, and canon law structures—though under-enforced—have long been in place to correct them. Clerical sexual abuse is the primary problem, but it is not the only one.

The real task ahead is instead to devise and implement processes, in which lay participation is extensive, that will police the bishops as they ought to have policed themselves. Investigation and punishment of abuses are not enough. It is essential to develop institution-wide remedies. The crisis in the Church is a structural or Continue reading

Kavanaugh (and Kennedy) on Church and State

Judge_Brett_KavanaughAt the Law and Liberty Blog today, I have an essay on how a Justice Kavanaugh would likely rule in church-state cases. I argue he is likely to look a lot like Justice Kennedy, the person he would replace:

It’s always difficult to predict how a nominee would rule in cases once on the Court. The best evidence is the way he has ruled as a lower court judge—and even that evidence is imperfect, since lower court judges have a greater duty than Supreme Court Justices to follow the Court’s precedents. Although he has been on the DC Circuit for a dozen years, Kavanaugh has written only two opinions on the merits in church-state cases, one on establishment and the other on free exercise. (He has written one opinion dismissing an Establishment Clause challenge on standing grounds and joined a few church-state opinions other judges have written, but those opinions are less probative). On the basis of those two opinions, I think Justice Kavanaugh would likely be a centrist conservative in the middle of the Court—a Justice remarkably like the one he would replace.

You can read the whole essay here.

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