First Tuesday In October


The Supreme Court roared back into session yesterday. I was profoundly troubled. But what bothered me wasn’t in this news story:

Supreme Court Back in Session
By Robert Barnes
Article Launched: 10/02/2007 03:05:53 AM PDT

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court convened its new term Monday, and the justices immediately immersed themselves in the first of several election-law challenges the court has agreed to decide in the midst of the 2008 elections …

Nope. It has absolutely nothing to do with election law. And it wasn’t this from Agence France Presse:

Religious groups must offer employees birth control: US Court

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The US Supreme Court rejected Monday a bid by Roman Catholic and Baptist groups to stop offering their employees birth-control benefits as part of their health insurance.

The case hinged on the organizations’ right to place their own beliefs at the center of their employment practices, offering a new battle ground over the age-old state versus religion debate at the start of the court’s new year.

The top court rejected a petition by the groups arguing that by being forced to offer contraception pills and equipment on their employee health-insurance plans, their First Amendment rights to free speech were violated.

The petition sought to overturn a New York state law that mandated that all employees of religious groups must have access to birth-control measures as part of their employer-provided health insurance.

The Catholic Church teaches that contraception is “intrinsically evil,” eight Catholic organizations backed by a Baptist church had argued in their petition.

Nope. It doesn’t have anything to do with the five justice Catholic majority on the court, either, exactly.

No: I have covered the medieval “Red Mass” that precedes the Court’s term (and most state and circuit courts in the US, and many in Canada) for a few years now:

Boregasm: Faith of Our Fathers and Justice for All
You see, it’s Red Mass Sunday in Washington, DC in a ceremony dating back to the 13th Century — which, coincidentally was the SAME century that Habeas …

Skiing Uphill – The Obligatory Blog, by Hart Williams
Red Mass refers to a Roman Catholic Mass celebrated annually for judges, prosecutors, … The first recorded Red Mass was celebrated in Paris in 1245. …

Zug — Red Mass or Deathscort at the Abortuary
And recognize that all the “Red Mass” attendees have had their way, and Kennedy, too, who does not attend the medieval “Red Mass”—rightly in my view, … [warning, this drew an incredible amount of flak from Catholic ‘defenders’ (defamers?). See Todd Mitchell’s post at Article of Faith.]

Skiing Uphill – The Obligatory Blog, by Hart Williams
But, as noted here, he flew back on Sunday, to attend the Red Mass at the Saint … Though not a Catholic, Bush attended the “Red Mass” and was prominently …

I note that Anthony Kennedy — who had, PREVIOUSLY, made a point of NOT attending the Black Mass … er, RED Mass, did attend this year, making a clean sweep: all five, according to the Washington Times:

Red Mass seeks judicial guidance
By Kristi Moore
October 1, 2007

… Speaking to a crowd of more than 1,500 in his homily at the 54th annual Red Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew in the District, Archbishop Timothy Dolan reminded the jurists and other government officials in attendance that “ideas have consequences” and so does participation in the Red Mass.

“Participation in the Red Mass is a humble prayer for the red-hot fire of the Holy Spirit, bringing the jurists, legislators and executives of our government the wisdom to recognize that we are indeed made in God’s image … and then to give them the courage to judge, legislate and administer based on the consequences of this conviction: the innate dignity and inviolability of every human life, and the cultivation of a society of virtue to support that belief.

Those present at the 112-year-old church included Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Stephen G. Breyer and Samuel A. Alito Jr. Justice Breyer is Jewish; the other five are Catholic.

Also in attendance were deans and professors of law, lawyers and members of Congress… [emphasis added]

Am I questioning as to why this oldest of Dominionist philosophies so powerfully affects our Supreme Court, and why everyone is attending a Catholic Mass specifically aimed at pushing medieval Catholic theological concepts of “law” and “justice”?

And BLATANTLY pushing their idea of what “a culture of life” should be?

Not exactly, although the spectacle of the Archbishop reminding the five Catholic jurists of what their RELIGIOUS duty ought to be should chill your blood (in prior years, this exhortation was specifically excluded from the homily, as I’ve reported).

What is troubling is a matter of symbolism, and of the APPEARANCE of impropriety. If any man living OUGHT to be aware of the deep — and perhaps justified — unease throughout this country about five Catholic justices sitting on a court poised to revisit Roe v. Wade, and OTHER issues that the church is at odds with a majority of Americans on, it OUGHT to be John Roberts (when he’s not in seizure, of course).

Worse, Anthony Kennedy has GOTTEN it for years. He has made a POINT of not attending the Red Mass. But now, as the swing vote in a hopelessly 5-4 court, his attendance at the Red Mass is chilling in the extreme.

New Chief Justice Roberts begins this term with his insulting attendance at the Red Mass, and, quite frankly, if he had a lick of sense, he’d have begged off — even though, as I reported one year and one day ago, his wife has served on the Red Mass organizing committee (the John Carroll Society) for years — out of simple respect for the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech …

The first portion is referred to as the “establishment clause,” and as the supreme officer entrusted with interpreting the Constitution, Roberts OUGHT to have had the class to say: “I’m a Catholic. I’m proud of it, but it would be TOTALLY F***ING INAPPROPRIATE for me to attend the Red Mass as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America.”

And Kennedy should have never attended this year, of all years.

Breyer got it “right,” in a sense: he was displaying, seemingly, that he respected ALL religious traditions, and was showing solidarity with his fellow justices. But what had been a valuable symbolic act in prior years now appears more as a cooption by the Five. And so, he got it “wrong” as well.

Could Roberts have placed country and the appearance of judicial integrity above his need to attend the Red Mass? Hell yes. Did it occur to him what a kreepy signal he was sending?

Fat chance. So, Roberts blows the “sensitivity” and “integrity” cards. Recall that homily from the Red Mass: ” ‘ideas have consequences’ and so does participation in the Red Mass.” It takes on a meaning which, perhaps, the archbishop of Washington never intended. But it is there, nevertheless.

He OUGHT to have recused himself, had he respect for those whom he serves, and not the ideology which seemingly trumps them. But, alas, no.

And what ought to have bothered you, as it bothered me all day yesterday was that the Chief Justice, while willing to kowtow to medieval Catholic tradition, seems more than willing to flush American jurisprudential tradition down the toilet. (See: The Roberts Court and the Role of Precedent).

And what does that tell me, as surely as body language tells you that someone is hostile, isn’t believing you, etc.?

It tells me that Roberts is hell bent for leather to continue proving that his weasel confirmation appearance before the Senate and his claims that he respects “stare decis” — i.e. judicial precedent, i.e. legal TRADITION — is not only a claim that he stomped all over LAST year, but will continue to in this blighted new session of the Katholik Kourt.

You know, it is possible to be Catholic and a judge, and to be a man of decency and great personal integrity. As a matter of fact, that tends to be the rule, save for three prominent exceptions:

Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and John Roberts.

(Sam Alito gets to earn those stripes this year. I have no doubt that he will.)

Ain’t we got fun?

But endings are contained in beginnings, and the omen for this season is bleak.

At least Roberts isn’t wearing those ridiculous Gilbert and Sullivan stripes that Rehnquist came up with to show what a vain, jealous and petty little man he was. Roberts will have to find his OWN way of doing THAT.

Courage. (You’ll probably need it.)

UPDATE 5:00 PM PDT: New information camed to light after this morning’s posting. I said that Roberts’ wife, Jane Sullivan Roberts (former board member of “Feminists for Life” she had dropped her affiliation during hubby John’s confirmation hearings, but she’s reestablished it, according to their website) had FORMERLY been involved, through the John Carroll Society, in setting UP the Red Masses each year. Well, I don’t know if she was this year, but I dug this up from the EXTREMELY sparse coverage of this year’s event. Interpret it as you will. From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, who evidently STILL maintain a Washington bureau, and doesn’t just crib all their coverage from AP reports, like all other newspapers these days:

Dolan preaches to high court justices
Posted: Sept. 30, 2007

Washington – Before six of the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court and more than 1,000 other worshippers, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of Milwaukee delivered a homily Sunday at the capital’s annual Roman Catholic Red Mass. … The event drew a standing-room-only crowd of about 1,200, said Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington.

Dolan, who left the service with Roberts’ wife, Jane, later greeted worshippers on the steps of the cathedral.

Ain’t that comfy?

There is a point at which Caesar’s wife crosses the line from the appearance of impropriety to actual impropriety: Jane Sullivan Roberts has crossed that line.

I’m sure we can all expect “fair and balanced” decisions on abortion this term. Frankly, my take on the Court’s rejection of the “birth control benefits” case is that they don’t want their agenda in the public eye so early in the session; there’s virtually no doubt that four jurists are salivating to overturn Roe, and the relatively minor question of church employee benefits is an unwanted impediment. This makes them look like “good guys” — even as the Chief Justice’s wife has dropped all pretense of not being a rabid anti-abortionist. “Legal counsel”? Greeting exiting mass attendees on the steps of the cathedral with the Archbishop? Good lord. (That’s her, behind the archbishop in the photo).

Meantime, Clarence Thomas — who is to Supreme Court Justices as G. W. Bush is to U.S. Presidents — is shamelessly flogging his angry memoir by exploiting the Court’s opening day. More to come. But see THIS post from a conservative Thomas fan.

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About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Buñuel documentaries immensely.
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One Response to First Tuesday In October

  1. Darrell Prows says:

    The ol gray mare sure ain’t what she used to be.