Is President Bush a man of his word?
We're about to find out.
In the last election, a majority of Catholic voters told pollsters they had very different views from Bush's on a number of issues, including war and capital punishment. But then a majority of them cast their ballots for Bush anyway. The reason was obvious enough for a Newsweek headline to put it this way: “It's About Abortion, Stupid.”
Catholics voted for Bush because of abortion — and, specifically, because of the Supreme Court. Ever since the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, the battle for abortion has been taken out of voters’ hands and put in the high court's. That means that perhaps the greatest power presidents wield on the issue is their power to appoint Supreme Court justices.
In the months leading up to the last election, Sen. John Kerry pledged again and again that, if he were elected, he would use abortion as a litmus test, appointing to the Supreme Court only those justices who reject the right to life.
For his part, President Bush promised that he would appoint only justices who were “like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas” — two men who are considered the surest pro-life votes on the court.
Now that Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has retired (as this goes to press, no other justice has joined her), we'll see just how hard the president and the GOP are willing to fight to keep that promise.
Catholics will see this appointment as a crucial test both of President Bush and of the Republican Party he leads. Catholics have trended toward the GOP only relatively recently. If Bush breaks his promise, Catholics could leave the party as quickly as they entered it.
But the replacement of Justice O'Connor isn't crucial to the GOP's political future only. It's crucial to the future of America, as well.
Justice O'Connor served in the Supreme Court for 24 years. She began to be known as the swing vote on the court — the one whose vote decided key issues. More than any other justice, when decisions came down with a 5-4 vote on the nine-person panel, Justice O'Connor was on the winning side.
In June, Justice O'Connor and four others on the Supreme Court ruled that the Ten Commandments cannot be displayed on public property if there is a religious intent behind the display. Not only did Justice O'Connor's vote make it illegal for a community to publicly reverence the basic moral code of our land — it did so by dictating from on high, regardless of the wishes of voters.
Two years ago, a 5-4 majority paved the way for same-sex “marriage” by striking down sodomy laws. Again, the court decided that the laws we make in our communities were irrelevant: The court would decide what was right and what was wrong. Again, Justice O'Connor's vote was decisive.
Amazingly, Justice O'Connor and four other justices wouldn't even allow states — or the U.S. Congress — to outlaw the gruesome practice of partial-birth abortion, in which a full-term baby is killed with scissors during birth. Because the O'Connor majority said so, lower courts had to overturn the ban on partial-birth abortion that the majority of Americans wanted, and that our elected representatives enacted.
What can we do? We can ask the president (WhiteHouse.gov) to keep his promise. We can ask our representatives to urge him to do so as well. (Find out who they are and how to contact them by typing in your zip code at Vote-Smart.org).
We can also pray. Priests for Life is joining Gospel of Life Ministries in asking Catholics to say the following prayer daily.
Prayer for Our Nation's Courts and Judges
Lord God, I thank you today for the gift of our nation.
You alone rule the world with justice,
Yet you place in our hands the solemn duty
Of participating in the shaping of our government.
I pray today for our president and senators
Who have the responsibility of placing judges on our courts.
Please protect this process from all obstruction.
Please send us men and women of wisdom,
Who respect your law of life.
Please send us judges with humility,
Who seek your truth and not their own opinions.
Lord, give all of us the courage we need to do what is right
And to serve you, the judge of all, with fidelity.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
- July 17-23, 2005