Friday, July 22, 2005

Catholics on the High Court

CNS STORYhas the story here. If Judge Roberts is confirmed to SCOTUS, he will become the 10th Catholic on the Court since the foundation of the United States. The story provides an interesting look at past Catholics on the Court:
The first Catholic justice went straight to the top.

After serving as attorney general and acting secretary of war, Roger B. Taney was rejected by the Senate the first time President Andrew Jackson nominated him to become an associate justice of the Supreme Court in 1835. That apparently was due more to the Senate's ongoing political battles with Jackson, though, rather than to Taney or his religion, according to encyclopedia references.

Taney was confirmed as chief justice when that position opened up a year later, and he served until 1864.

The son of a Maryland plantation owner and slaveholder, Taney is perhaps best known for writing the majority opinion in Dred Scott vs. Sandford in 1857. It said Negroes could not become citizens and that Congress had no authority to prohibit the territories from allowing slavery.

The ruling became hotly divisive and was a factor in creating the political climate that led to the Civil War.

The second Catholic named to the court was not seated for another 30 years after Taney's death, but he also became chief justice, the only other Catholic to have held that post.

Edward Douglas White, a U.S. senator from a wealthy and politically powerful Louisiana family, was appointed to the court in 1894 by President Grover Cleveland after his two previous nominees were rejected by the Senate. White had attended Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Md., and Georgetown University and served in the Confederate Army before entering politics.

The Encyclopedia of the Supreme Court notes that White's nomination sailed through, apparently at least in part because he was a member of the Senate. In 1910, White was elevated to the seat of chief justice, which he held until his death in 1921.
The prioritization of politics or cultural beliefs over doctrine unfortunately has not been a new problem for Catholics. Justice Taney tragically set the stage for the Civil War. He held to the pro-slavery views of his native Maryland in opposition to Catholic Teaching on the immorality of slavery. His majority opinion in Dred Scot v. Sanford removed any potential compromise that North and South could hold to avert civil war. His tenure should remind all Catholics of the importance of staying true to Catholic Social Teaching when holding public office. Respect for the dignity of the human person and the correct principles for ordering society in service to the common good do not require a confession of Catholic Faith. They ensure justice in society.

The whole article deserves a read. Check it out.