National Catholic Register

Opinion

2 Supreme Questions

BY The Editors

June 7-13, 2009 Issue | Posted 5/29/09 at 1:35 PM

 

There are two questions Catholics are asking about Judge Sonia Sotomayor, Barack Obama’s pick for the U.S. Supreme Court.

1. Is she Catholic?

2. Is she pro-life?

On the ubiquitous social-networking website Facebook, members say they are “in a relationship” “not in a relationship” or “it’s complicated.” For Sotomayor, the answer to both of those questions might be “it’s complicated.”

Is she Catholic?

She received all the Catholic sacraments of initiation. In his remarks introducing her, Obama pointed to the key role Cardinal Spellman High School in New York played in helping Sotomayor rise from humble circumstances to legal heights.

Beliefnet reports that the White House has said: “Judge Sotomayor was raised as a Catholic and attends church for family celebrations and other important events.”

In other words, she’s a lapsed Catholic. That she attends church functions only for family celebrations means that she has shunned her church but not her family.

On the one hand, she’s not a Catholic in the minimum-requirement sense. She doesn’t apparently fulfill minimum requirements in the precepts of the Church. On the other hand, she is the product of a Catholic community, a Catholic family and Catholic schooling.

It’s this reality that worries some commentators. After all, she would make a sixth Catholic on the nine-member Supreme Court — a supermajority for Catholics.

One reason Sotomayor was picked was that Democrats wanted a Hispanic justice added to the court. You’re not likely to find a Hispanic who doesn’t have a Catholic past (though the first Hispanic on the court, 1932-seated Benjamin Cardozo, was a Portuguese Jew).

One lesson of the Catholic-heavy yet ethnically diverse court should be that the Catholic Church itself is the ultimate vehicle for diversity. After all, ours is a Church whose believers worship in the Philippines, Uganda, India, China and South America.

If Sotomayor is confirmed, the Supreme Court’s six Catholics will include: a black man, a man of Irish heritage, a man of Czechoslovakian heritage, a Latina woman and, as Italians are proud to note, two Italians.

A related lesson is that, in America, Catholic schools have provided the best opportunities for success through education to the underprivileged. Clarence Thomas had the fortune to attend Catholic schools as a boy and received opportunities that weren’t widely available to blacks. Sotomayor was able to reach her potential because of her Catholic school.

But is Sotomayor “Catholic” in her commitment to the right to life? Is she anti-abortion?

It’s almost certain that she isn’t.

She is set to take the seat vacated by Justice David Souter, who was nominated by the elder President George Bush. That nomination is a lesson no president — or abortion activist on either side — has forgotten.

Pro-abortion groups bitterly opposed the Souter nomination, and pro-life groups accepted it, only to learn within a year that Souter wasn’t what he was popularly believed to be.

It would be ironic if the pro-abortion Souter’s replacement turned out to be an anti-abortion “Souter.” But it isn’t likely.

Abortion is the bottom-line political issue for Democrat leaders, the one thing the party refuses to compromise on, even inventing a language of “reducing unintended pregnancies” as a smokescreen to protect the status quo.

Nonetheless, The New York Times reported that pro-abortion groups are wary of Sotomayor after reviewing her cases.

In 2002’s CRLP vs. Bush, the opinion Sotomayor wrote upheld the Bush-administration policy of keeping taxpayer dollars from groups that promote abortion overseas.

“The Supreme Court has made clear that the government is free to favor the anti-abortion position over the pro-choice position,” she wrote, “and can do so with public funds.”

In a 2004 case, she sided with Connecticut anti-abortion protesters’ right to sue police officers for using excessive force on them at an abortion business.

Judge Sotomayor has also ruled for immigrants who were fighting deportation orders to China because of its forced abortion and sterilization policies.

She wrote, “The termination of a wanted pregnancy under a coercive population control program can only be devastating to any couple, akin, no doubt, to the killing of a child,” and also noted “the unique biological nature of pregnancy and special reverence every civilization has accorded to child-rearing and parenthood in marriage.”

In a case last year, she prevented the deportation of a Chinese abortion worker who had permitted another woman to escape a scheduled forced abortion. The abortion worker feared reprisal for her crime in her homeland.

We suspect that Sotomayor, a Princeton and Yale alumna, will turn out to support the position most others from elite schools support: that social justice needn’t imply the right to life, and that feminist sentiment is compatible with putting pregnant woman at the mercy of abortion businesses that profit from their pain.

But pro-lifers should hope this case history gets a lot of play. That pro-abortion groups are wary about it teaches a lot about their beliefs:

A. They believe foreign abortionists have a right to money that is withheld from our paychecks.

B. They are not sure America’s right to protest without fear of police violence should be extended to pro-lifers.

C. They don’t feel comfortable opposing China’s forced-abortion policy.

By focusing on these cases, we might teach Americans what it means to be “pro-choice” and thus continue the quiet trend of Americans becoming more pro-life.