Embed from Getty Images
Heidi Schlumpf has a new article that asks if US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is whole life, featuring the responses of a few whole life Catholic commentators. She notes that “Catholics are not monolithic, some will be happy with Kavanaugh, while others have serious concerns.” This is, of course, true. Catholics don’t fit into one box—right now there are mass-attending pro-choice liberals who are fretting about the prospect of Roe and Casey being overturned, while more conservative and libertarian Catholics may be excited by the idea of a right-wing Court that eschews judicial restraint in favor of pro-corporate, small government activism. She then quotes me:
“But for those who pretty consistently embrace the communitarian approach of Catholic social teaching and Pope Francis’ opposition to the throwaway culture, there is most often dissatisfaction with the current state of the Court and the prospect of new justices who will increase its polarization and politicization.”
With these Catholics and others who embrace a whole life approach, there is (and should be) great concern about justices using a supposedly textualist or originalist approach to overturn or undermine voting rights, gun control, environmental regulations, campaign finance reform, labor rights, consumer protections, financial regulation, and access to healthcare. Catholics who genuinely care about the common good don’t want people with preexisting conditions to lose their health insurance because of an overly activist Court that overturns a law that even many conservative judges and legal scholars consider constitutional. They do not want underregulation that could lead to another Great Recession or impenetrable barriers to political reform that stand in the way of redemocratizing our system of government and decreasing the dominance of economic elites.
At the same time, many who believe in the equal dignity and worth of each person would like to see an end to the liberal overreach, with rulings based on emanations and penumbras, that resulted in the US having one of the most permissive, libertarian approaches to abortion in the world. Some would like to give state legislatures carte blanche in regulating abortion, while others believe that 14th amendment protections should apply to unborn children. Religious freedom is another key issue in Catholic social teaching that many serious Catholics and other proponents of universal human rights care deeply about, particularly given the threat of anti-Muslim discrimination at the present moment.
Given these priorities and the breadth of Catholic social teaching and the whole life agenda, in contrast to the focus on one or two issues that many special interest groups and voters with very little knowledge of constitutional law embrace, it is not surprising that there is trepidation about our increasingly polarized parties’ efforts to place their fellow ideologues on the Court and concern that this may be happening once again.
Schlumpf quotes other whole lifers, including Stephen Schneck and Kristen Day, who describe the importance of a whole approach in evaluating Kavanaugh and their initial thoughts on how his selection might measure up:
Stephen Schneck, former director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America, said he has “a great deal of concern” about Kavanaugh’s record on issues such as health care, union rights, immigration and the environment.
“I hope he reflects on the whole of what’s incumbent on us as Catholics in public life,” Schneck told NCR.
Although he is hopeful that a pro-life justice like Kavanaugh might make some “progress against the problem of abortion in the United States,” Schneck added, “As Catholics, we can’t just look at these things narrowly from the perspective of abortion.”
The pro-life organization Democrats for Life is cautiously optimistic about Kavanaugh’s nomination, given his previous decisions that would seem to support limits, if not a complete overturning, of Roe v. Wade.
“But we’re also pro-life for the whole life,” said Democrats for Life’s executive director, Kristen Day, citing affordable health care, paid maternity leave and opposition to the death penalty as other important issues.
“We want to encourage pro-life legislators to really examine [Kavanaugh’s] record, look at his philosophy and give him a fair and careful look,” Day said.