John G. Roberts Jr. would be the fourth Roman Catholic on the Supreme Court, if confirmed, an all-time high that is focusing attention on how faith might influence law on the high court.
From abortion to capital punishment to physician-assisted suicide, the upcoming term offers plenty of issues in which the Catholic Church has strong interest. But history shows a justice’s religion does not provide a road map for rulings. Abortion, the main religious matter swirling around Judge Roberts’ nomination, provides a telling example. The Catholic Church thinks abortion is wrong in every instance.
Two of the Catholics on the court — Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — are pro-life. Justice Scalia, whose son Paul is a priest, and Justice Thomas are sometimes seen walking together to the court after attending Mass on holy days of obligation. But the third Catholic — Anthony M. Kennedy — voted with the majority in a 5-4 ruling in 1992 reaffirming the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, despite some apparent inner turmoil. Justice Harry A. Blackmun, who died in 1999, said Justice Kennedy worried “about the attention he would get as a Roman Catholic reaffirming Roe.”
The lone Catholic on the Supreme Court when Roe was decided in 1973, William J. Brennan Jr., supported liberal access to abortion.
Many would like to hear Judge Roberts’ position on abortion: An Associated Press/Ipsos poll released last week found that 52 percent of Americans want him to reveal his stand before the Senate’s confirmation vote.
Judge Roberts has not spoken publicly since he accepted his nomination, but has been meeting individually with senators on Capitol Hill.
Writing in the online edition of the liberal magazine the American Prospect, Roberts foe Adele Stan said Mr. Bush was “playing the Catholic card” by nominating Judge Roberts, who would be the 10th Catholic in the court’s history.
“Bush is betting he’s bought himself some insulation — any opposition to Roberts, particularly because of his anti-abortion record, will likely be countered with accusations of anti-Catholicism,” she said. For that reason, she added, Catholic senators should take the lead in grilling Judge Roberts.