Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

The USCCB Urges Nuclear Disarmament Policy

This month, the USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development (the “JPHD”) released a statement urging the Obama Administration to move decisively toward nuclear disarmament.  The JPHD referenced both the massive expense of maintaining the United States’ nuclear arsenal—money better spent aiding the poor—and Catholic just war principles, which would forbid the use of such disproportionately destructive weaponry.  On these bases, the JPHD went so far as to urge not just reduction in nuclear capability to a level of bare deterrence, but actual, complete nuclear disarmament

Please follow the jump to read a copy of the form letter the JPHD urged Americans to e-sign before March 31, 2012, when Obama will be making once-per-decade decisions about whether and how much to cut the United States’ nuclear arsenal. Continue reading

The Catholic Bishops in the Roberts Court: Track Record as Amicus Curiae

In the first six years of the Roberts Court (OT05-OT10), the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops filed seven amicus curiae briefs. Four dealt with religious liberty  (Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao de Vegetal, CLS v. Martinez, Arizona School Tuition Organization v. Winn, and Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC), two addressed abortion (Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood and Gonzales v. Carhart), and one dealt with assisted suicide (Gonzales v. Oregon). The table below compares the Justices by whether they voted for the same party supported by the Bishops’ Conference as amicus curiae.

Justice Name

Agreement with Bishops’ Conference as Percentage of Cases

Agreement with Bishops’ Conference as Fraction of Cases

Chief Justice Roberts (Catholic)

100%

7/7

Justice Scalia (Catholic)

100%

7/7

Justice Thomas (Catholic)

100%

7/7

Justice Alito (Catholic)

100%

4/4

Justice Kennedy (Catholic)

71%

5/7

Justice Stevens

50%

2/4

Justice Souter

50%

2/4

Justice O’Connor

50%

1/2

Justice Ginsburg

43%

3/7

Justice Breyer

43%

3/7

Justice Sotomayor (Catholic)

33%

1/3

Justice Kagan

33%

1/3

These statistics reveal a stark division between the Catholic and the non-Catholic Justices, a division that is likely to shape up more and more as one between the Republican appointees (all Catholic) and the Democratic appointees (one of whom is Catholic). The three cases in which the party supported by the Bishops’ Conference garnered the votes of the non-Catholic Justices were all unanimous decisions (Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao de Vegetal, and Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood). The party supported by the Bishops’ Conference did not attract the votes of a single non-Catholic Justice in any split decision.

As noted in connection with the earlier chart showing the same measure in the Rehnquist Court, the point of this measurement is not to demonstrate influence, but rather to define the universe of cases in which the Bishops have an interest in the outcome and to see how hospitable various Justices have been to the claims advanced by the parties supported by the Bishops’ Conference amicus curiae briefs.

 

Justice Brennan and Justice White from the Catholic Bishops’ Point of View

During his time on the Rehnquist Court, Justice Brennan voted in seven cases in which the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (the “USCCB” or “Bishops’ Conference”) filed an amicus curiae brief. He voted for the party supported by the Bishops’ Conference in three out of those seven cases. By contrast, during his time on the Rehnquist Court, Justice White voted in ten cases in which the USCCB filed an amicus curiae brief (the same seven as Justice Brennan, plus three more). He voted for the party support by the Bishops’ Conference in all ten of those cases.

The low level of agreement between Justice Brennan and the Bishops’ Conference is notable given that Justice Brennan was the last beneficiary of a so-called “Catholic seat” on the Supreme Court.  And Justice Brennan’s voting pattern presents an interesting contrast with Justice White’s.  The contrast is noteworthy because President Kennedy appointed White. As the country’s first (and thus far only) Catholic President, Kennedy could not politically afford to nominate a Catholic to the Supreme Court.  By contrast, Brennan’s Catholicism was an important factor in making him an attractive nominee for Eisenhower.  Thus, one reason that Brennan was appointed is that he was a Catholic, while one reason White was appointed is that he was not a Catholic.  Yet White ended up consistently voting with the Catholic bishops on the Rehnquist Court, while Justice Brennan had one of the lowest rates of agreement during the same time period.

There were five other Justices who voted in all ten cases in which the Bishops’ Conference filed an amicus curiae brief and in which Justice White voted: Chief Justice Rehnquist, Justice Blackmun, Justice Stevens, Justice O’Connor, and Justice Scalia. Rehnquist and Scalia joined White in voting for the party supported by the Bishops’ Conference in all ten of these cases. Justice O’Connor voted for that party in eight out of those ten cases, Justice Stevens in three, and Justice Blackmun in two. In the first several years of the Rehnquist Court, then, the three Justices with the best track record from the point of view of the Bishops’ Conference consisted of two Protestants (Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice White) and one Catholic (Justice Scalia).

Seeking Moral Guidance on the Iraq Withdrawal

On December 15, 2011, President Obama formally announced the end of the eight-and-a-half year Iraq war.  American troop presence in Iraq has dwindled to a fraction of its former strength:  In 2007, 170,000 Coalition troops occupied Iraq from 505 bases; in December, 2011, 4000 operated there from only two.  President Obama has also said he will not send any more troops to Iraq, even if the nation devolves into civil war; instead, America’s role will be limited to a political one, using diplomacy to resolve future conflicts.

Our war, then, is essentially over.  But whether war is over for Iraqis is a separate question, one with significant moral import for the United States.  Though American troops will be gone, Iraqis still face the specters of terrorism, government oppression, and civil war.  And because America started hostilities in 2003—whether justly or unjustly—it bears at least some responsibility to aid the nation it now leaves to its own devices.  Major religious bodies like the Catholic and Anglican Churches have yet to speak directly to this grave issue, one essential to America’s moral obligations to the Iraqi people.

What moral guidance, then, can we draw upon to evaluate this moment in contemporary history?  Shall we be overjoyed that a war is over, or shall we lament a moral failure?

For more on the situation in Iraq and a moral discussion of our withdrawal, please follow the jump. Continue reading

USCCB to Congress: Protect Food Aid & the Environment, Domestically & Internationally

On October 20, the Most Reverend Stephen E. Blaire, Bishop of Stockton, California, and the Most Reverend Howard J. Hubbard, Bishop of Albany, New York, penned a letter on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (“USCCB”) expressing concern about budget cuts to conservation, rural development, and international food-aid programs.

Bishop Blaire, the Chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop Hubbard, Chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on International Justice and Peace, wrote to emphasize that domestic and international budget considerations must take into account the “least of these” among us.  See Matthew, 25:40.  The letter focuses on the need, in determining government spending priorities, always to respect the fundamental right of the poor to adequate nutrition and the necessity of promoting responsible environmental stewardship.  The letter urges Congress, despite its legitimate fiscal concerns, not to lose sight of these priorities in its rush to cut spending.

Excerpts from the letter, addressed to the Chair and Ranking member of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, follow the jump. Continue reading

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