May 12, 2005

The Faithful Filibuster

The battle over President Bush's few remaining contentious judicial nominees has been brewing since February, when President Bush -- the great "uniter, not a divider" -- resubmitted some of his previously filibustered nominees to the Senate in an attempt to get them confirmed, again. Since then, evangelical Christian leaders have teamed up with a few conservative Catholic leaders and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to make this a religious issue when, in fact, it is entirely political. According to these conservative religious leaders, Democrats have acted against people of faith by filibustering these few nominees. They point to these nominees' resistance to abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, and other hot button social issues as reasons for the Democrats to oppose their appointments to the federal appellate courts.

It is true that these nominees are opposed to all of the issues I cited, but it is not true that the Democrats are opposing their appointments solely on these grounds. After looking at these nominees' records, one wonders which people of faith the Democrats are opposing, because these nominees certainly do not represent the views of any recognizable religion -- least of all the Catholic Church.

Priscilla Owen

For instance, Priscilla Owen is one of those "activist judges" that Republicans are so fond of talking about, and she has been legislating from the bench for quite some time.

- Owen has been criticized by her colleagues on the Texas Supreme Court and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for trying to "judicially amend" Texas law and she was criticized harshly for "an unconscionable act of judicial activism";

- While serving on the Texas Supreme Court, Owen received campaign contributions from Enron and Halliburton and then issued rulings in their favor;

- Owen has a record of preferential treatment for retailers and corporations over consumers and the average citizen. For example: When a man suffered serious injury as he was leaving his truck, she believed that the insurance company didn't have to pay. Another example: In a dissenting opinion, Owen wrote that corporations should be able to opt out of municipal water quality and other environmental ordinances, citing the precedence of private property rights.

Even though President Bush claims to favor strict constructionism, in many cases Priscilla Owen would have rewritten Texas law from the bench, and she was publicly reprimanded for her judicial activism by her colleagues on the Texas Supreme Court, most notably Alberto Gonzales, who is himself a conservative and a successful Bush appointee to the position of U.S. Attorney General. Not only is her judicial activism unethical, but her acceptance of campaign contributions from corporations like Enron and Halliburton and her subsequent refusal to recuse herself from cases involving these corporations is a blatant violation of ethics which should be found reprehensible by people of faith and secular people alike.

It must also be noted that, besides the fact that Owen's environmental rulings were inconsistent with Texas law, they were also inconsistent with Catholic social teaching which calls for responsible stewardship of God's creation. Given her unethical actions, her judicial activism, and her environmental rulings which are inconsistent with responsible stewardship, there is no reason why Catholics should support Justice Priscilla Owen.

Janice Rogers Brown

If you thought Priscilla Owen was an activist judge, then you're going to love Janice Rogers Brown, the queen of judicial activism.

- In a race discrimination lawsuit, Brown ruled in a dissenting opinion that racial slurs in the workplace are protected under the First Amendment, even when they reach the level of illegal race discrimination, and even though the U.S. Supreme Court has set an opposite precedent;

- Brown has suggested that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination, could be unconstitutional under the First Amendment;

- Brown dissented from a ruling that upheld a San Francisco ordinance requiring residential hotel owners seeking permission to eliminate residential units and replace them with tourist hotels to help replace the lost rental units;

- In a dissenting opinion, Brown sought to relax legal mechanisms that would hold corporations accountable for false or misleading statements;

- In another case, she ruled that a corporation should be granted an injunction against a former employee who was sending e-mails critical of the company's employment practices to his former colleagues.

Catholics must stand up and proclaim that Brown's opposition to abortion is not enough for her to gain our support. Her rulings on racial discrimination, general employment discrimination, the rights of corporations vs. the rights of the poor, and her relaxation of speech limitations for corporations while simultaneously restricting freedom of speech for private citizens are all inconsistent with Catholic social teaching and with the U.S. Constitution.

William Pryor

I have already written at length about Judge Pryor's record as attorney general of Alabama in my entry: "Should Pryor Be Confirmed?" Nevertheless, we'll have a brief review, because Bill Pryor is the example so often held up as anti-Catholic discrimination on the part of the Democratic Party.

- Pryor's views on the death penalty are, without question, disturbing: for instance, he objected to Atkins v. Virginia, which prohibited the execution of the mentally retarded and people with brain damage;

- Pryor has voiced his opposition to the Voting Rights Act, particularly Section 5, which he says should be amended or completely repealed;

- Pryor filed a brief in support of the Texas "Homosexual Conduct Law," which allowed for the imprisonment of homosexual men and women for private sexual conduct in their own homes;

- Pryor endorsed sex discrimination in education by opposing United States v. Virginia, which ruled that women could be admitted to the Virginia Military Institute;

- In Hope v. Pelzer, Pryor defended Alabama's practice of handcuffing prison inmates to hitching posts in the hot sun if they refused to work on chain gangs or otherwise disrupted them;

- Pryor opposed the Violence Against Women Act on the grounds that it violated states' rights. Pryor was the only attorney general to file an amicus curiae brief in opposition to the act, with 36 states filing briefs supporting it;

- There is strong circumstantial evidence that Pryor may have ruled against the Schindlers in the sad case of Terri Schiavo, meaning that he may have ruled not to reinsert Mrs. Schiavo's feeding tube.

Pryor's questionable views on the death penalty, voting discrimination, educational discrimination, and domestic violence are all inconsistent with Catholic social teaching. His support for the cruel and unusual punishment of "the hitching post" is a direct violation of Catholic moral and social teaching. If in fact he did rule against the Schindlers and did not rule to reinsert Terri Schiavo's feeding tube, then he directly violated a well-known teaching of Pope John Paul II's ordinary papal magisterium. There is no reason why Catholics should support Judge Pryor, and opposition to his appointment cannot possibly be misconstrued as anti-Catholic discrimination since he does not, in fact, follow the teachings of his church.

- - -

The conclusion that one comes to is that the nomination of these men and women, and the support they've found in Congress and among American citizens, is politically motivated. It is shameful that proponents of these nominees' confirmation have resorted to falsely accusing the opposition of religious discrimination, and it is shameful that they are abusing their own religious affiliation and the religious affiliation of these nominees in an attempt to change the rules of Congress so that President Bush and the Republican Party can get their way on a few contentious nominees.

Unfortunately, Republican senators are trudging on in their determination to get Bush's nominees confirmed -- or else. Sen. Bill First (R-TN), the Senate Majority Leader, has said that there could be a vote to change the Senate's filibuster rules as early as next week. As people of faith who do not want to see these nominees confirmed, and who do not want to see the rules of the Senate changed in order to do it, we have a moral obligation to speak out against this "nuclear option" at critical moments.

In their efforts to preserve an independent judiciary, People for the American Way has developed a "Nuclear Option" Mass Immediate Response. Here's how it works: By giving PFAW your cell phone number, you allow them to send you a text message as soon as Senate Republicans trigger the "nuclear option." This text message will have an embedded link to the Senate switchboard, which will send your call to your senators with the push of a couple of buttons. You can then let your senators know that you oppose the use of the "nuclear option," and that you oppose President Bush's remaining judicial nominees. If you're interested in signing up for this immediate response, click here.

As committed Catholics who are unwilling to allow our faith to become a political tool for the far right, we must stand in opposition to this extremism in the U.S. Senate and let our senators know that we are people of faith, and that we do not want extremists to sit on the bench of our federal appellate courts.