Evaluating Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh through a Whole Life Prism

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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.


Bishop Comments on Imprudence of MAGA Priests at Trump Rally

via the Montana Standard:

The attendance of four Roman Catholic priests from Montana at President Donald Trump’s political rally in Great Falls Thursday has created a social media firestorm and apparently incurred the displeasure of the priests’ superiors in the church.

The four, who were seated near the front of the rally, wore their clerical garb, carried “Make America Great Again” signs, and wore VIP badges. They clapped for Trump as he doubled down on his oft-repeated slur of Sen. Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas,” mocked the #MeToo movement, and questioned the meaning of former Republican President George H.W. Bush’s “Thousand Points of Light” slogan.

Two of the priests, Father Garrett Nelson and Father Ryan Erlenbush, serve in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Great Falls-Billings. The other two, Father Kevin Christofferson and Father Christopher Lebsock, serve in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena.

Bishop Michael William Warfel, Bishop of the Great Falls-Billings diocese, answered a query about the priests’ attendance on Facebook by saying, “I was not aware that these priests would be in attendance at the rally at which President Trump spoke. Two were from the diocese of Great Falls-Billings and two were from the Diocese of Helena. I will be contacting the two priests from this diocese.

“While they are free to support a political candidate — and I believe they were there in support of Matt Rosendale, who is running for the Senate seat from Montana — they should not have been attired in clerical garb and seated in such a prominent location. I myself had been invited to attend the rally but declined. It has been my experience that people can be manipulated and used unwittingly. I judge that it was an imprudent decision on their parts to allow themselves to be used in such a way though I suspect they had not thought of this. In Christ, Bishop Warfel.”


Radical Care Must Replace Our Throwaway Culture

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville writes:

The Social Justice magisterium is particularly subject to dismemberment into lesser, purely political parts if we do not sustain a concerted effort to connect the teaching to the person of Christ from whom it flows….

Pope Francis speaks of the “throwaway culture”, as a description that encompasses all that undermines the human good today. We use and throwaway unborn children, immigrants, laborers, the disabled, the elderly, the terminally ill, and our own natural environment. This is the condition that marginalizes and creates the “invisibles”.  Returning, then, to the point about the Christological center, for us, the dramatic clarity about the mystery of human vulnerability, and the great dignity it entails, is provided by the image of Christ in the womb of Mary, and Christ discarded and hanging on the Cross. The unborn and the immigrant, the death-row inmate and the street person are present in that continuum. In Catholic Faith, our salvation depends on how we respond to the Christ in those places. In his visit to the United States, Pope Francis called for the replacement of a throwaway culture, and a culture of radical individuality, with a human culture that “protects and cares for”, a culture of “radical care”. This is so important. Whoever is vulnerable, and at risk “is brother or sister to me.” In the end, this includes everybody.


Pope Francis Tells Oil and Gas Execs to Address Climate Change

Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Daniel Misleh, and Millennial writer Daniel DiLeo write:

Pope Francis recently convened oil and gas corporation executives and investors to share some hard truths about fossil fuels and catastrophic climate change. In doing so, the Holy Father extended the Christian tradition of witnessing challenging truths to the public and influential members of society.

Despite the difficulty of his message, the pope knows that these leaders can help — or obstruct — the world’s collective efforts to shape a new energy future and hopes they will serve the common good.

Four days after the meeting, an international scientific team announced west Antarctica is melting three times as fast now compared to 15 years ago and has lost 2.7 trillion tons of ice during that period. Together, we echo Pope Francis’s urgent plea that these leaders, as well as their colleagues and elected officials, rapidly embrace the changes that science indicates are necessary to avoid climate catastrophe.


US Bishops Disappointed by Supreme Court’s Attack on Unions

via USCCB:

Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, expressed disappointment in today’s Supreme Court decision on Janus v. AFSCME. The 5-4 decision struck down an Illinois law that required non-union workers to pay fees that go to collective bargaining, overturning a 1977 law that required employees to pay “fair share” fees.

Bishop Dewane’s full statement follows:

“It is disappointing that today’s Supreme Court ruling renders the long-held view of so many bishops constitutionally out-of-bounds, and threatens to ‘limit the freedom or negotiating capacity of labor unions.’ Caritas in Veritate, no. 25. By reading the First Amendment to invalidate agency fee provisions in public-sector collective bargaining agreements, the Court has determined—nationwide, and almost irrevocably—that all government work places shall be “right-to-work.” Now that such agency fee agreements are outlawed, state and federal legislators should explore alternative means “for the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend their rights.” Caritas in Veritate, no.25.”


US Bishops Disappointed by Supreme Court’s Failure to Protect Religious Freedom in Travel Ban Case

via USCCB:

Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration, and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, chair of the USCCB Committee for Religious Liberty, issued the following joint statement:

“The travel ban targets Muslims for exclusion, which goes against our country’s core principle of neutrality when it comes to people of faith. We are disappointed in the Court’s ruling because it failed to take into account the clear and unlawful targeting of a specific religious group by the government. The Catholic Church takes a strong stand against religious discrimination, and we will continue to advocate for the rights of people of all faiths, as well as serve migrants and refugees through our various ministries.”


Don’t Be an Independent, Join a Political Party

Michael Wear writes:

The rhetoric around independents is and has been quite bold and self-congratulatory. It goes: Independents are citizens who have the moral courage to declare a pox on both houses, and the capacity for free-thinking that enables them to say “no” to the partisan options that have been presented to us; they chart their own path. These independents supposedly hold the key to breaking through our bitter partisanship, our rampant tribalism.

But if independents were truly the key to fixing our politics, our politics would be just about fixed by now. In 2014, the percentage of Americans who identified as an Independent reached an all-time high of 43%. Today, it sits at 42%. There are more Independents in this country than either Democrats or Republicans. Fifty percent of Millennials are political independents. So why don’t our politics reflect these free-thinking, morally pruned voters? A rise in independents should result in a politics more focused on common ground, not less — right?

The problem is that politics is not an individualistic endeavor. Independents tend to spurn institutions generally, and then feel vindicated when our institutions do not reflect their views. But while Independents think they are sending political parties a message, political parties do not hear them.

This is not an abstract argument. It is a practical problem. In many states, you cannot vote in a party’s presidential primary unless you belong to that party. You cannot become a party delegate and vote on the party platform unless you belong to that party. In essence, Independents actively minimize their impact on elections and party positions. When people leave (or fail to join) parties in protest, they starve those parties of ideological diversity, driving them to their extremes….

If you believe one party more closely — not perfectly, but closely — aligns with your political views of what is best for your neighbors and your country, you should join that party. If you believe your party, however flawed, is still the best option for the country, stay and fight for it — regardless of the immoral actions of its leader. If after taking into consideration the structural impediments in our system for third parties, you still believe investing in a third party is the best choice, do that. But to withdraw from our political parties is to unilaterally forego one of the primary levers we have of influencing the direction of our government. Party participation is not an identity statement. It is a choice about how to use your power as a citizen.