Hostility Toward Catholic Doctrine Becomes Evident in Holmes Debate
WASHINGTON — Several U.S. senators condemned a number of beliefs based on long-standing Catholic doctrine during a July 6 debate on the confirmation of Leon Holmes, a convert to the faith nominated by President Bush to be a district judge in Arkansas.
Holmes was confirmed 51 to 46 after waiting 18 months for a vote, with five Republicans — all pro-Roe v. Wade — voting against him and six Democrats voting for him.
The opposition to Holmes' nomi-nation represented an expansion of liberals' war against constitutionalist and especially pro-life judicial nominees and was especially unusual given the support of his two Democratic home-state senators.
District court nominees are almost never targeted for ideological reasons since they are trial, not appellate, judges and thus set no legal precedents. In fact, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Holmes was the first district nominee she had ever voted against, even after three years of Bush judicial nominees.
This is part of a “Titanic battle between two differing judicial philosophies,” said Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, in an interview. The group helped lead opposition to Holmes. “This is not about anybody's personal religious beliefs. It's about judicial temperaments.”
The opposition to Holmes occurred despite his pledges — acknowledged by senators during the floor debate — to apply the law fairly regardless of his religious beliefs, even on issues such as abortion. Holmes is the former president of Arkansas Right to Life.
“I think it's the duty of the district courts to follow what the Supreme Court says as honestly as they can,” Holmes told the Register the day after his confirmation. “I don't think it would be helpful if district judges started to evade those decisions. The system depends on obedience to authority.”
Opponents insisted it was not his personal views per se that caused them to oppose Holmes but their lack of confidence that he could set those views aside and make impartial judicial decisions.
Some said an argument against legalizing abortion for rape victims that Holmes wrote when he was 27 — “conceptions from rape occur with the same frequency as snowfalls in Miami” — showed insensitivity, though Holmes has apologized for making it.
Senators opposed to Holmes who were chosen by their fellow opponents to make the arguments against him on the Senate floor identified six beliefs they found disturbing in a judicial nominee: a strong commitment to the right to life for unborn children, wives' submission to their husbands and opposition to modern feminism, immorality of homosexual acts, immorality of ontraception, natural law theory and God's ability to bring good out of evil.
They frequently labeled Catholic teachings, including those shared by a large proportion of the non-Catholic American population, as “extreme” or “out of the mainstream.” Below is a sampling.
— On being pro-life: In building her case against Holmes, Feinstein cited a pro-life statement written by Holmes: “In a 1987 article written to the Arkansas Democrat, Mr. Holmes wrote: ‘[T]he basic purpose of government is to prevent the killing of innocent people, so the government has an obligation to stop abortion.’”
She cited Holmes' statement that Roe v. Wade was among three Supreme Court decisions he disagreed with and said, “To include Roe v. Wade with these two decisions clearly indicates that he holds Roe as a decision to be abolished. This is simply not a mainstream perspective.”
• On natural law: “Like [Catholic U.S. Supreme Court] Justice [Clarence] Thomas, Mr. Holmes has been a proponent of what is known as a ‘natural rights' or ‘natural law' theory of interpreting our Constitution in order to achieve judicial recognition of rights he believes should exist,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, DVt., senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The idea of ‘natural law’ is what led to the tyrannical period of judicial activism at the turn of the last century in which the Supreme Court struck down numerous state and federal laws written to protect the health and safety of working Americans.” “He has expressed support for the concept of natural law, which holds there are laws that trump the law of the Constitution” Feinstein said. “This concept is starkly at odds with the role of a federal judge, who must swear to uphold the Constitution.”
• On wives' submission and opposition to feminism: Feinstein, quoting from an article co-written by Holmes and his wife, who were citing St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians, said: “‘The wife is to subordinate herself to her husband' and … ‘the woman is to place herself under the authority of the man.' This belief, if sustained, clearly places this nominee in a place apart. … How can I or any other American believe that one who truly believes a woman is subordinate to her spouse can interpret the Constitution fairly?”
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who led the Republicans opposed to Holmes and who cast her first vote against a Bush judicial nominee when she voted against him, said, “My vote will not be in any way related to his views on abortion or his personal religious beliefs. It is based on his body of statements over a 25-year period that lead me to conclude he does not have a fundamental commitment to the total equality of women in our society.”
“In fact, Mr. Holmes has blamed feminism for the erosion of morality,” said Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. “He has written that ‘to the extent that we adopt the feminist principle that the distinction between the sexes is of no consequence … we are contributing to the culture of death.' Are we really expected to believe that someone with such medieval views will dispense 21st-century justice?”
• On homosexuality and contraception: “Mr. Holmes is not merely opposed to a woman's constitutionally protected right to choose,” Feinstein complained. “He has also lashed out at contraception, against women generally and against the rights of gays and lesbians. He wrote in 1997: ‘It is not coincidental that the feminist movement brought with it artificial contraception and abortion on demand, with recognition of homosexual liaisons soon to follow.'”
• On bringing good out of evil: Several senators were disturbed that Holmes agreed with Booker T. Washington's theory that God allowed slavery in order to show white Americans a Christlike example in the black race.
Feinstein cited this in a list of Holmes' writings she didn't like: “Specifically, in a 1981 article, he wrote for a journal called Christianity Today about Booker T. Washington. This is what he wrote: ‘He taught that God had placed the Negro in America so it could teach the white race by example what it means to be Christlike. Moreover, he believed that God could use the Negroes' situation to uplift the white race spiritually.' … In April of last year, Leon Holmes wrote to Sen. [Blanche] Lincoln [D-Ark.]: ‘My article combines [Washington's] view of providence — that God brings good out of evil — with his view that we are all called to love one another. This teaching can be criticized only if it is misunderstood.”
Battles to Come
Liberal groups and the senators beholden to them “picked out Holmes because he had been president of Arkansas Right to Life and had written on pro-life,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee.
He said the Holmes battle would have little bearing on a Supreme Court nomination except as an indicator of what is to come.
“A Supreme Court vacancy is an entirely different situation,” he said. “What percentage of the public was paying any attention to the appointment of Leon Holmes, outside of Arkansas?”
But, he said, this is “a harbinger of what these groups will try to do when President Bush makes a nomination to the Supreme Court.”
“I think what you are seeing is two forms of bigotry,” said Joseph Giganti, communications director for the American Life League. “One is against Catholics who live by the tenets of their faith and the other is against pro-life people. They're trying to send a clear message that we won't tolerate this [a pro-life nominee] on lower levels so don't even try it on the Supreme Court.”
“It's becoming less and less disguised, the anti-Catholic sentiment that exists on the left,” said Manuel Miranda, chairman of the Ethics in Nominations Project, who agreed that liberals were trying to intimidate Bush out of appointing a pro-lifer to the Supreme Court. “They're almost oblivious to the offense they give to people of faith.”
“The Holmes debate is an early debate on the federal marriage amendment,” Miranda added. “It's a warm-up because the Holmes debate was about St. Paul and Christian marriage.”
“It has been suggested that Mr. Holmes' religious principles are extreme. I say to you that his principles are consistent with the Catholic Church's principles,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., during floor debate. “What he has said in every writing I have seen, and as I understand it, they are perfectly consistent — in fact, he defended classic Catholic doctrine. … Is the rule that no true believers in Catholic doctrine need apply for a federal judgeship?”
Supporters of Holmes read letters from pro-abortion female lawyers who had worked with Holmes and supported his nomination. They noted that Holmes supported the accession of the first woman to be a partner in his law firm.
“And by the way,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, “if it comes down to a choice between St. Paul and my distinguished friend from Massachusetts, Sen. Kennedy, or my distinguished friend from Illinois, Sen. [Dick] Durbin, I think I will take St. Paul every time, and I think most everybody else in the country would, too. He and his wife were quoting St. Paul.”
The Republicans who voted against Holmes were Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, John Warner of Virginia, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. Democrats voting for him were Lincoln, Mary Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu and John Breaux of Louisiana, Zell Miller of Georgia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.
Joseph A. D'Agostino writes from Washington, D.C.
- July 18-24, 2004