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A few posts over at The Volokh Conspiracy at the end of last week raised some good questions about the basis for, and going-forward import of, the Supreme Court’s invalidation of DOMA in United States v. Windsor. In two posts (so far), Neomi Rao has probed the Windsor majority opinion’s use of “dignity,” while Dale Carpenter has provided a different take on the basis for Windsor. And Will Baude has written a post analyzing Friday’s New Jersey trial court ruling that New Jersey must extend the designation of “marriage” to its civil unions (which in New Jersey provide the same legal benefits under New Jersey law as marriage). These posts highlight the confusion that Windsor has spawned by its lack of a clear legal basis. (But see Ernest A. Young, United States v. Windsor and the Role of State Law in Defining Rights Claims, 99 Va. L. Rev. Online 39, 40 (2013) (“[T]he trouble with Windsor is not that the opinion is muddled or vague; the rationale is actually quite  evident on the face of Justice Kennedy’s opinion.”).)

Some of this confusion stems, in my view, from Justice Kennedy’s description of state marriage law as conferring “dignity and status of immense import” upon those authorized to marry by state law. This understanding locates in the State much greater power than it possesses in a limited government. Properly understood, the State can undermine or promote human dignity through its laws (and in many other ways as well), but the State does not “confer” dignity. Once one assigns to the State a power that it is neither authorized nor suited to exercise, the boundaries that one then seeks to place around exercises of that power risk being arbitrary. (A similar dynamic comes into play when one assigns an attribute to the State that it does not, properly speaking, possess. Perhaps for this reason, the confusion surrounding Windsor resembles something of the confusion surrounding the Supreme Court’s use of “dignity” in its sovereign immunity jurisprudence.)

Whatever the sources of the confusion in Windsor, it is becoming increasingly clear that Windsor itself is a significant source of confusion for courts trying to figure out its legal import. This is apparent in last Friday’s ruling from New Jersey, Garden State Equality v. Dow. The court in Dow ruled that the equal protection guarantee of the New Jersey Constitution requires New Jersey to extend the designation of “marriage” to same-sex couples that previously were eligible for civil unions in the state. The court’s ruling rests on an interpretation and extension of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s 2006 decision in Lewis v. HarrisIn that case, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that the same state-law rights and benefits provided to married couples in New Jersey must also be provided to same-sex couples eligible for domestic partnerships. The problem with the domestic partnership scheme at issue in that case was that domestic partners received fewer state-law rights and benefits than married couples in New Jersey. The court in Lewis held that there was no fundamental right to marry, but that the state constitution’s equal protection guarantee protected against discrimination in the form of fewer benefits for same-sex couples.

Following Lewis v. Harris, the New Jersey legislature enacted civil union legislation that provided same-sex couples in civil unions with identical state-law rights and benefits as enjoyed by married couples. This appears to have remedied the state-constitutional equal protection violation found in Lewis v. Harris. And that is where matters stood until Windsor.

After Windsor held the federal DOMA unconstitutional, various agencies of the federal government determined that same-sex couples who were married under state law would receive federal benefits as married couples under federal law. But these agencies did not treat state civil unions like marriages. Accordingly, same-sex couples in civil unions in New Jersey were not entitled to the same federal benefits as same-sex couples in marriages in other states that recognized same-sex marriage.

Friday’s ruling in Garden State Equality v. Dow holds that, in the wake of Windsor, New Jersey must allow same-sex couples to marry under New Jersey law in order to be entitled to the same federal-law rights and benefits as married couples, as required by the equal protection guarantee of the New Jersey Constitution as construed in Lewis v. Harris. Here is how the Dow court summarizes its reasoning:

Under the New Jersey Supreme Court’s opinion in Lewis v. Harris, 188 N.J. 415 (2006), same-sex couples are entitled to the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex couples. The Lewis Court held that the New Jersey Constitution required the State to either grant same-sex couples the right to marry or create a parallel statutory structure that allows those couples to obtain all the same rights and benefits that are available to opposite-sex married couples. The New Jersey legislature chose the latter option when it adopted the Civil Union Act. Since the United States Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor, __ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 2675 (2013), invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act, several federal agencies have acted to extend marital benefits to same-sex married couples. However, the majority of those agencies have not extended eligibility for those benefits to civil union couples. As a result, New Jersey same-sex couples in civil unions are no longer entitled to all of the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex married couples. Whereas before Windsor same-sex couples in New Jersey would have been denied federal benefits regardless of what their relationship was called, these couples are now denied benefits solely as a result of the label placed upon them by the State.

The ineligibility of same-sex couples for federal benefits is currently harming same-sex couples in New Jersey in a wide range of contexts: civil union partners who are federal employees living in New Jersey are ineligible for marital rights with regard to the federal pension system, all civil union partners who are employees working for businesses to which the Family and Medical Leave Act applies may not rely on its statutory protections for spouses, and civil union couples may not access the federal tax benefits that married couples enjoy. And if the trend of federal agencies deeming civil union partners ineligible for benefits continues, plaintiffs will suffer even more, while their opposite-sex New Jersey counterparts continue to receive federal marital benefits for no reason other than the label placed upon their relationships by the State. This unequal treatment requires that New Jersey extend civil marriage to same-sex couples to satisfy the equal protection guarantees of the New Jersey Constitution as interpreted by the New Jersey Supreme Court in Lewis. Same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in order to obtain equal protection of the law under the New Jersey Constitution.

The court’s reasoning is confusing. If the Civil Union Act remedied the violation of New Jersey’s equal protection guarantee by ensuring identical state-law rights and benefits, then how does the new availability of federal-law rights and benefits to those who are married under federal law because married under state law affect the requirements of the equal protection guarantee of the New Jersey Constitution for couples who do not have a state-constitutional-right to marry? The court’s reasoning seems to conclude that the New Jersey Constitution requires access to the federal law benefits enjoyed by married same-sex couples in other states. But if the only reason that those couples are entitled to those federal-law benefits is because the state in which those couples were married has chosen to confer the dignity and status of marriage on those couples, then why should a different state’s constitutional equal protection guarantee require entitlement to federal-law benefits when that state has not chosen to confer the dignity and status of marriage on those couples?

Further, consider the following:

- “Under the New Jersey Supreme Court’s opinion in Lewis v. Harris, 188 N.J. 415 (2006), same-sex couples are entitled to the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex couples.” But what “same rights and benefits”? Under state law? Federal law? Both? It is hard to believe that Lewis v. Harris required the New Jersey legislature to provide same-sex couples with the same benefits under federal law as married opposite-sex couples.

- “The Lewis Court held that the New Jersey Constitution required the State to either grant same-sex couples the right to marry or create a parallel statutory structure that allows those couples to obtain all the same rights and benefits that are available to opposite-sex married couples.” All the same rights and benefits under state law? Under federal law? Both? Again, it is difficult to imagine that Lewis v. Harris required the New Jersey legislature to provide same-sex couples with the same benefits under federal law as married opposite-sex couples.

- “The New Jersey legislature chose the latter option when it adopted the Civil Union Act.” Since the Civil Union Act did not do anything to provide same-sex couples with the benefits of marriage under federal law, the New Jersey legislature chose a system in which same-sex couples could obtain all the same rights and benefits under state law that are available to opposite-sex married couples. So when the court says that Lewis required a choice between same-sex marriage and “a parallel structure that allows those couples to obtain all the same rights and benefits that are available to opposite-sex married couples,” that parallel structure was measured by reference to state-law rights.

- “Since the United States Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor, __ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 2675 (2013), invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act, several federal agencies have acted to extend marital benefits to same-sex married couples. However, the majority of those agencies have not extended eligibility for those benefits to civil union couples. As a result, New Jersey same-sex couples in civil unions are no longer entitled to all of the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex married couples.” But same-sex couples in civil unions in New Jersey were not previously entitled to all of the same rights and benefits under federal law as opposite-sex married couples in New Jersey. And that did not violate the New Jersey Constitution. Same-sex couples in civil unions in New Jersey were entitled to the same rights and benefits under state law before Windsor, and they remain entitled to the same rights and benefits under state law after Windsor.

- “Whereas before Windsor same-sex couples in New Jersey would have been denied federal benefits regardless of what their relationship was called, these couples are now denied benefits solely as a result of the label placed upon them by the State.” WIndsor held unconstitutional the refusal of federal-law marriage benefits to those upon whom the state conferred the dignity and status of marriage. Same-sex couples in New Jersey are not couples upon whom the state has conferred the dignity and status of marriage. Wasn’t that the basic function of the Lewis court’s distinction between interpreting the New Jersey Constitution to require “marriage” on the one hand, versus interpreting the New Jersey Constitution to allow civil unions with identical rights and benefits as marriage under a different label, on the other?

[Cross-Posted at Mirror of Justice]

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Each Catholic religious order has its own special charism that can be seen in institutions founded by and run by members of the order. In and through their various institutions, I have personally experienced the distinctive charism of Dominican sisters, Salesian priests, brothers, and sisters, Capuchin Franciscan priests, Holy Cross priests and brothers, Jesuit seminarians and priests, and Augustinian priests and brothers, among others. It was not until earlier this year, however, that I encountered the distinctive charism of the Little Sisters of the Poor in their own distinctive institutions: homes for the elderly poor. The Little Sisters’ charism is one of hospitality, in which the Sisters strive to “be little in order to be close to the most humble, and [to] be close to make them happy.”

Like many Catholics, I was familiar with the Little Sisters from their trips to our parish to beg for funds for their ministry. I knew that they knew how to ask in a way that touched the hearts of the congregation. But it was not until I met some of the sisters at St. Joseph’s Home in Richmond (including two Sisters from St. Martin’s Home in Baltimore), and again at Jeanne Jugan Residence in Washington, D.C., that I understood on a deeper personal level the real difference that their presence makes in the lives of their homes’ residents and in the life of the Church. It’s the difference that comes from knowing that one is loved and has dignity and will not die alone, and the difference that comes from vowed women religious spreading that love, cultivating that dignity, and accompanying the dying on their final journey.

Unfortunately, however, the occasions for my visits to their homes were meetings to discuss legal matters. Like many religious organizations, the Little Sisters have needed to figure out how to deal with the federal government’s refusal to treat them as a religious employer exempt from the legal requirement to offer health benefit plans that violate their religious beliefs. The fruit of some of those earlier consultations was a set of comments in response to the federal government’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. In those comments, the Little Sisters respectfully requested the government “to reach a just resolution that respects the religious freedom and conscience rights of all.” And the comments expressed the hope “that it is unnecessary for us to join the scores of employers that have already resorted to the federal courts for protection.”

That hope has now met necessity, and the Sisters are now in federal court. Through two of their homes (in Denver and in Baltimore), the Little Sisters have filed a lawsuit, together with Christian Brothers Services and Christian Brothers Employee Benefits Trust (which cooperate with religious organizations in the provision of benefits). The lawsuit seeks relief from enforcement of the requirement to arrange their health benefit plans so that beneficiaries receive no-cost access to female sterilization and all FDA-approved contraceptive drugs and devices (including some with abortifacient properties).

Although aware of the Little Sisters’ religion-based objections to this requirement, the federal government has refused to treat the Little Sisters’ homes as “religious employers” that receive an exemption. Having witnessed the Sisters’ ministry in these homes and having worshipped with the Little Sisters in the St. Joseph’s Home’s chapel, this refusal boggles even the lawyerly part of my mind. These Little Sisters of the Poor homes are—in the words of Cardinal George—“icons of mercy where Christ is welcomed and served in the elderly poor with the utmost respect for their dignity.” In any ordinary time, these homes would easily be recognized as “religious employers.” But perhaps this is no ordinary time. If the federal government continues to refuse to recognize these homes as “religious employers” under the federal contraceptives mandate, then words have lost their meaning for them.

The lead lawyers on the case are from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and Locke Lord LLP. I am continuing to assist the Little Sisters as part of their legal team and will therefore be more circumspect than I might otherwise be in discussing various aspects of the case. But the complaint speaks for itself. And the Becket Fund has created a case page with more background, including a press release and a web video, which I encourage all to check out.

(cross-posted at Mirror of Justice)

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That is the headline of this Boston Globe article from last week few days ago about the appointment and the rescinding of appointment of Bishop James Tengatenga of the Angligan Diocese of Southern Malawi as dean of the Tucker Foundation at Dartmouth College. I find it surprising that one often-astute observer of Dartmouth College affairs praises the college’s new president, Philip Hanlon, for not flinching in pulling the appointment. It sure seems to me like he flinched. At least that’s what I take away from the comments of the chair of the search committe, Professor Irene Kancades. According to The D’s story today:

Calling the decision “bizarre,” Kacandes said reversing a provost and president-approved decision after a seven-month search might deter faculty from volunteering to sit on future search committees.

“The way that the accusations unfolded is something that we should be very alarmed about,” Kacandes said. “This man was tried in a court of partial public opinion, and it was not clear that people who wanted to weigh in could do so.”

Kacandes said she felt the strong reaction was perpetrated by a small group of students, blog posts and in emails between some faculty members.

Maybe there’s more to the story, which I am viewing from a distance (though not as much a distance as students in Hanover, NH might view the statements of a Bishop in Malawi). But the way this unfolded is troubling. As an alumnus of Dartmouth and AQ, I appreciate now in a way that I did not appreciate as a student the benefits of the institutional independence of Aquinas House, the Catholic student center at Dartmouth, from the governance of the Tucker Foundation.

For more background: The college’s statement on Bishop Tengatenga’s initial appointment is here, a statement by Bishop Tengatenga on his views on gay rights is here, and a statement by Dartmouth’s new President on rescinding the appointment is here. (See also this story from Episcopal News Service and this story from the Valley News.) Earlier news coverage about the controversy is available from the Valley News and Dartblog.

A perspective piece from Patheos, titled “Scapegoating Bishop James Tengatenga,” concludes with a quotation from the Globe’s coverage and the observations of an unnamed faculty member:

The fears voiced in the Globe article by Zambian exile the Rev. Kapya John Kaoma:

“This is a big blow, because it leaves African activists on the ground wondering if they can work with Westerners,” Kaoma said. “All human rights defenders in Africa are working under very, very hard conditions, and the violence against them is always there. What they have done is exposed Bishop Tengatenga and then dumped him back into Malawi.”

Were echoed by a member of the Dartmouth faculty, who told me:

The idea of the left taking care of their own calls to mind the Republican friendly fire of the Spanish Civil War.  In this case, the left refused even to recognize him as one of their own.  He unwittingly and in circumstances scarcely imaginable here violated their language code; their own moral pride compelled them to relegate him to the status of outcast, unfit to exercise moral leadership in our community.  I don’t think my perception is entirely distorted when I notice a Leninist streak in the American liberal arts left.

[Cross-posted at Mirror of Justice]

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A recent post at Mirror of Justice brought me to Perry Dane’s insightful seven-page essay, Doctrine and Deep Structure in the Contraception Mandate Debate, which is well worth reading. So too is Douglas Laycock’s recently posted article, Religious Liberty and the Culture Wars

Dane’s and Laycock’s reflections align in a way with aspects of Joel Friedlander’s incisive 1992 Comment, Constitution and Kulturkampf: A Reading of the Shadow Theology of Justice Brennan, 140 U. Penn. L. Rev. 1049 (1992). In this Comment (written as a student but of a quality that far surpasses most faculty-produced scholarship), Friedlander seeks to explain Justice Brennan’s jurisprudence as it developed over the course of his judicial career. His thesis is that “a kulturkampf, warring cultures and warring theories of culture, best explains the shift in Justice Brennan’s decisions and his place in the continuing war over the meaning of the Constitution.”

Friedlander analyzes Brennan’s jurisprudence through analytical frameworks supplied by social theorists Otto Gierke, Ernst Troeltsch, and Philip Rieff. His description of Rieff’s thought suggests the ongoing relevance of Rieffian analysis, and Friedlander’s Rieffian analysis of Justice Brennan’s obscenity decisions points toward a different kind of “culturally conservative” jurisprudence:

Rieff, a contemporary of Justice Brennan, is a sociologist of culture and cultural change. In Rieffian theory, modernity denies and negates the sacred order that all cultures, Catholic and otherwise, address. Included in his theory of cultural warfare, or kulkturkampf, are theories of legal personality and the relative authority of religious and racial motifs. * * *

To Rieff, the first sociological fact worth knowing about cultures is that their continued life depends upon them disarming their competitors. Only as a last resort is military force utilized; the first weapon is words. Of concern in this Comment is the ultimate weapon of the law, which implies both command and compulsion. * * *

* * *

The dimensions of this cultural warfare are not contained by, and may dwarf, the longstanding jurisprudential debates between originalism and non-originalism or between natural law and positivism. At stake in this culture struggle is the survival or abandonment of the moral authority in the Constitution that is derived from Judaism, Christianity, or any other religion. Though there are those who fear the implementation of a “new right” jurisprudence, the cultural conservatives on the opposing side are largely constrained by their positivism, if not by their originalism. To avoid these artificial constraints, this Comment concludes, a culturally conservative jurisprudence should look to Justice Brennan’s theories and their expressing in the reasoning of Roth.

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Today is the deadline to file comments on the HHS Mandate Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. Among the many groups commenting today are the Little Sisters of the Poor. Their comments filed today are available here, and their prior statements on the HHS Mandate are available here and here.

As this 2005 Wall Street Journal article explains, the Little Sisters of the Poor have “an odd business plan” for their homes for the elderly poor: “Beg for help, lavish it on residents.” But more confounding than the Little Sisters’ business plan is the idea that the federal government would force them to arrange their health coverage for their homes’ employees to ensure coverage of female sterilization and the free flow of all FDA-approved contraceptives, including abortifacient drugs and devices.

President Obama is a college sports fan, but he should know better than to think that the Little Sisters of the Poor are simply “a euphemism in college sports to describe a weak opponent.” The Little Sisters are real; the HHS Mandate burdens their religious exercise; and the Obama Administration has the power to lift that burden. Lifting that burden is also the President’s duty under federal law.

Some excerpts from the comments:
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Like everyone else, I was surprised by the announcement of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation. But apparently unlike many, this announcement did not strike me as extraordinary. Rather, I was surprised to learn how unusual papal resignation has been throughout history.

It is more difficult for me to understand why fewer have resigned than it is to understand why Pope Benedict XVI would do so. The Pope has life tenure in office. But the purpose of life tenure–to guarantee independence–is compatible with voluntary resignation of office. The Petrine office is demanding in many ways. When its current holder freely arrives at the conclusion that he can no longer carry out all the demands of office, it is entirely appropriate for him to resign.

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An argument against recognizing RFRA coverage of for-profit corporations that seems to be popping up with some regularity goes like this: Once courts recognize the right of evangelical employers to buy insurance coverage that excludes abortion-causing drugs and devices, or the right of Catholic employers to buy insurance coverage that excludes contraceptives, there is nothing to stop Jehovah’s Witness employers from buying insurance coverage that excludes coverage for blood transfusions. See, e.g., Matthew Boudway at dotCommonweal (“Should an overzealous Jehovah’s Witness be able to get a group plan that excludes coverage for emergency blood transfusions, even if none of his employees are coreligionists?”); Americans United for Separation of Church and State (“The logic of Plaintiffs’ argument would transcend the provision of coverage for contraception. A Jehovah’s Witness could choose to exclude blood transfusions from his company’s health-insurance coverage.”).

This argument obviously appeals to some, or they would not bother making it. But there are several reasons that the argument is weak. And the fact that some advance this argument seriously in reasoned public debate may work against improving mutual understanding of religious liberty. Consider:

(1) Has any Jehovah’s Witness employer ever made such a claim? I’m not aware of any. Yet all of the legal tools available to make such a claim have been available for years. It is hard to see how the roll down the slippery slope to this location would get started by rulings about the contraceptives mandate if it has not yet started in some other way.

(2) RFRA prohibits the government from substantially burdening the exercise of religion. The religiously objecting employer under RFRA seeks protection from a government mandate. I’m not aware of any blood transfusion coverage mandate by the government–probably because there is no problem out there of employers limiting coverage in this particular way. If Jehovah’s Witness employers have not sought to limit coverage even when there is no mandate preventing them from doing so, figuring out the scope of their religious freedom in this regard seems like an idle exercise.

(3) The people putting this argument forward may not even understand what Jehovah’s Witnesses actually believe. While the religion teaches its adherents to avoid blood transfusions, it is not at all clear (at least to me, anyway) that the religion teaches this as a matter of the moral law binding on all, rather than a form of divine positive law that is not binding on those outside the community of religious adherents. (For an articulation of this distinction, see this discussion by Mark Shea.)

(4) RFRA is not a free pass for a religious exemption, but its application does trigger the requirement for the government to satisfy strict scrutiny, and the government can sometimes satisfy that test. The application of strict scrutiny should stop the roll down the slippery slope from reaching the point where the government cannot use certain regulatory tools to achieve a compelling government interest. Even assuming that a substantial burden analysis comes out the same, the compelling interest is easier to identify in with respect to emergency blood transfusions. The need for an emergency blood transfusion is unpredictable. And in comparison with emergency contraception, which is available over the counter at most pharmacies (for around $40 for a generic or $50 for a brand name), emergency blood transfusions are much more expensive.

(5) The casual deployment of this Jehovah’s Witness example is sometimes coupled with related arguments that reveal a misunderstanding of the religious beliefs of other groups. For example, the same amicus curiae brief in which Americans United for Separation of Church and State advanced the Jehovah’s Witness argument also argued that “Catholic owners could deprive their companies’ employees of coverage for end-of-life hospice care and for medically necessary hysterectomies.” With statements like this, it is difficult to believe that this brief was reviewed before filing by someone familiar with Catholic moral teaching. Catholics object neither to end-of-life hospice care nor to medically necessary hysterectomies.

(6) A casual approach to religiously based moral beliefs that differ in some ways from majority-held moral beliefs can easily lead to harm through a failure to appreciate and offer reasonable accommodations. While my research into this issue did not uncover an example of a Jehovah’s Witness employer denying insurance coverage for a blood transfusion, it did reveal a case in which a state denied to a Jehovah’s Witness on public aid coverage for a bloodless liver transplant that was available out-of-state at lower cost than an in-state transplant requiring a transfusion. Mary Stinemetz eventually prevailed on her Free Exercise challenge to this denial, but by the time the case was over, her condition had apparently deteriorated too far for her to any longer be eligible for a transplant.

(7) Most of the people who are advancing this particular slippery-slope argument probably have no idea of the contributions that Jehovah’s Witnesses have made to the law of religious liberty in the United States. See, e.g.,Thomas v. Review Bd.; West Virginia Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette.

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January 22 remains a day worth remembering. On this day in 1973, the Supreme Court promulgated its profoundly wrong decision in Roe v. Wade. At Mirror of Justice, Rick Garnett has some sober but hopeful reflections on Roe at 40.

Another date worth recalling is June 29. On that day in 1992, the Supreme Court issued Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey. I share the view–most forcefully expressed by Michael Stokes Paulsen–that Casey is the worst constitutional decision of all time. (For Paulsen’s explanation, see Michael Stokes Paulsen, The Worst Constitutional Decision of All Time, 78 Notre Dame L. Rev. 995 (2002); summarized more recently in two columns at Public Discourse, available here and here.)

One axiom of some academic theories of constitutional law in recent decades has been that, for a theory to be right, it cannot yield the result that Brown v. Board of Education is wrong. I hope for the broad acceptance of a different axiom: Any theory of constitutional law is wrong if it yields the result that Casey is right.

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The twitterverse is alive with tweets about Justice Scalia’s headgear for today’s inauguration. At the risk of putting all the fun speculation to an end . . . The hat is a custom-made replica of the hat depicted in Holbein’s famous portrait of St. Thomas More. It was a gift from the St. Thomas More Society of Richmond, Virginia. We presented it to him in November 2010 as a memento of his participation in our 27th annual Red Mass and dinner.

[UPDATE: Many have asked for more details about Justice Scalia's hat. It was made in Richmond, Virginia by milliner Camille Parham. Richmond lawyer and St. Thomas More Society executive committee member Stephen Reardon spearheaded our search for a "St. Thomas More hat" and presented the hat to Justice Scalia at the dinner after our Red Mass. A picture from the presentation and one from Justice Scalia's visit earlier in the day to the University of Richmond School of Law are below.]

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God and the World is the second book that arose out of conversations between Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and Peter Seewald. (The first was Salt of the Earth.) Here are a couple of excerpts from their conversations, on the general topic of flexibility, vocation, and following one’s inclinations:

[Seewald] People nowadays, in contrast to these disciples following Christ, have the idea that they can work out their path, put their lives together, by their own unaided efforts. They think that in any case no one has any clear identity any longer. Life is a flowing stream of illusions, according to what task or what scenario confronts us–or what desire. An either-or decision is in any case passé in the modern world; instead of that there is the new possibility of neither-nor.

[Ratzinger] Flexibility has become the all-sufficient watchword. we want to be able to react to new demands, and we hope, by changing jobs fast, to be able to climb the ladder as quickly and as high as possible. But I think there are still callings that demand the whole of a person. Being a doctor, for instance, or a teacher, is not something I can do just for two or three years, but is a calling that requires my whole lifetime. That is to say, even today there are tasks that are not a job that runs alongside my life, so to speak, in order to ensure I have money to live on. For a true calling, income is not the criterion, but the practicing of some skill in the service of mankind.

* * *

[Seewald] To stay with paths in life: many people have the notion that their life is a kind of film. And in this biographical filmstrip they suppose they should be able to make all the cuts and supervise the production of each scene themselves. One cannot avoid the thought: Why should I go out of my way in life, make special efforts, seek anything out, show self-control or faithfulness? That is, set out on this difficult path that the disciples follow with Jesus. Why should my life not just be simple and easy?

[Ratzinger] That is something only those people can afford who are born to luxury. That is a fantasy of people with property, which takes no account of the fact that, for the great majority of mankind, life is a struggle. On those grounds I would see this idea of choosing one’s own path in life as a selfish attitude and a waste of one’s vocation.

Anyone who thinks he already has it all, so that he can take what he wants and center everything on himself, is depriving himself of giving what he otherwise could. Man is not there to make himself, but to respond to demands made upon him. We all stand in a great arena of history and are dependent on each other. A man ought not, therefore, just to figure out what he would like, but to ask what he can do and how he can help. Then he will see that fulfillment does not lie in comfort, ease, and following one’s inclinations, but precisely in allowing demands to be made upon you, in taking the harder path. Everything else turns out somehow boring, anyway. Only the man who “risks the fire,” who recognizes a calling within himself, a vocation, an ideal he must satisfy, who takes on real responsibility, will find fulfillment. As we have said, it is not in taking, not on the path of comfort, that we become rich, but only in giving.

Source: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and Peter Seewald, God and the World, trans. Henry Taylor, Ignatius Press 2002.

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This NBC interview of Justice Sonia Sotomayor by Savannah Guthrie looks to have been conducted in a Catholic Church. Is that so? What accounts for that setting?

Justice Sotomayor does invoke God at one point:

Q: Do you think it’s good for the democratic process for the Court to be deciding these big, social issues of the day?

A: I don’t think of us, the democratic process, as being a static one where the Court announces, and that ends the dialogue. The Court announces, and the dialogue begins, and the approach in some instances has to be changed. But the society manages to do it.

Q: Do you look forward to those big, consequential cases?

A: Oh my God, look forward to them. I don’t think you can say anyone looks forward to controversy. I think that the day a Justice forgets that each decision comes at a cost to someone, then I think that you start losing your humanity.

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A couple paragraphs from an AP news story about same-sex civil marriages in Maryland show an inversion of the traditional understanding of church and state, whereby the church superintends the sacred and the state superintends the secular. Titled “Weddings abound as gay marriage becomes legal in Maryland,” the story describes wedding ceremonies between same-sex couples after explaining that Governor O’Malley pushed for legal recognition of same-sex civil marriage “against leaders of his Catholic faith” and the mayor of Baltimore opined on the relative sacredness of the resulting legal relationship:

The ceremonies follow a legislative fight that pitted Gov. Martin O’Malley against leaders of his Catholic faith. Voters in the state, founded by Catholics in the 17th century, sealed the change by approving a November ballot question.

“There is no human institution more sacred than that of the one that you are about to form,” Rawlings-Blake said during the brief ceremony. “True marriage, true marriage, is the dearest of all earthly relationships.”

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In an April 1823 letter to John Adams, Thomas Jefferson discoursed on the meaning of the beginning of the Gospel of John (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”). Jefferson’s theological ruminations may bear particular resonance for Trinitarian Christians this Christmas Eve day 2012:

[T]his text, so plainly declaring the doctrine of Jesus that the world was created by the supreme, intelligent being, has been perverted by modern Christians to build up a second person of their tritheism by a mistranslation of the word {logos}. One of it’s legitimate meanings indeed is `a word.’ But, in that sense, it makes an unmeaning jargon: while the other meaning `reason’, equally legitimate, explains rationally the eternal preexistence of God, and his creation of the world. Knowing how incomprehensible it was that `a word,’ the mere action or articulation of the voice and organs of speech could create a world, they undertake to make of this articulation a second preexisting being, and ascribe to him, and not to God, the creation of the universe. The Atheist here plumes himself on the uselessness of such a God, and the simpler hypothesis of a self-existent universe. The truth is that the greatest enemies to the doctrines of Jesus are those calling themselves the expositors of them, who have perverted them for the structure of a system of fancy absolutely incomprehensible, and without any foundation in his genuine words. And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with all this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this the most venerated reformer of human errors.

In his rejection of Jesus’s divinity, the Jefferson of 1823 was consistent with the Jefferson of the American presidency. See, for example, his 1803 “Syllabus of an Estimate of the Merit of the Doctrines of Jesus, Compared with Those of Others,” wherein he notes, among other things, that Jesus “taught, emphatically, the doctrines of a future state.”

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Michael Gerson’s column on Vice President Biden this evening is a gem. It opens:

What to make of Vice President Biden? Sometimes he is gaffe-prone comic relief. Sometimes he is the possessor of the worst geopolitical judgment in Washington — as when he opposed the Osama bin Laden raid or advocated the partition of Iraq. And sometimes he seems to be the last genuine human being in American politics.

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Cardinal Dolan, describing the Bishops’ reaction to some of the events surrounding the contraceptives mandate:

We got our Irish up when leaders in government seemed to be assigning an authoritative voice to Catholic groups that are not the bishops. If you want an authoritative voice, go to the bishops.

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In the first six years of the Roberts Court (OT05-OT10), the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops filed seven amicus curiae briefs. Four dealt with religious liberty  (Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao de Vegetal, CLS v. Martinez, Arizona School Tuition Organization v. Winn, and Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC), two addressed abortion (Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood and Gonzales v. Carhart), and one dealt with assisted suicide (Gonzales v. Oregon). The table below compares the Justices by whether they voted for the same party supported by the Bishops’ Conference as amicus curiae.

Justice Name

Agreement with Bishops’ Conference as Percentage of Cases

Agreement with Bishops’ Conference as Fraction of Cases

Chief Justice Roberts (Catholic)

100%

7/7

Justice Scalia (Catholic)

100%

7/7

Justice Thomas (Catholic)

100%

7/7

Justice Alito (Catholic)

100%

4/4

Justice Kennedy (Catholic)

71%

5/7

Justice Stevens

50%

2/4

Justice Souter

50%

2/4

Justice O’Connor

50%

1/2

Justice Ginsburg

43%

3/7

Justice Breyer

43%

3/7

Justice Sotomayor (Catholic)

33%

1/3

Justice Kagan

33%

1/3

These statistics reveal a stark division between the Catholic and the non-Catholic Justices, a division that is likely to shape up more and more as one between the Republican appointees (all Catholic) and the Democratic appointees (one of whom is Catholic). The three cases in which the party supported by the Bishops’ Conference garnered the votes of the non-Catholic Justices were all unanimous decisions (Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao de Vegetal, and Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood). The party supported by the Bishops’ Conference did not attract the votes of a single non-Catholic Justice in any split decision.

As noted in connection with the earlier chart showing the same measure in the Rehnquist Court, the point of this measurement is not to demonstrate influence, but rather to define the universe of cases in which the Bishops have an interest in the outcome and to see how hospitable various Justices have been to the claims advanced by the parties supported by the Bishops’ Conference amicus curiae briefs.

[Cross-posted at CLR Forum.]

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By my count, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops filed amicus curiae briefs in 22 cases during the Rehnquist Court. (For a spreadsheet showing USCCB amicus briefs and Justices’ votes for OT86-OT10, see here. Please let me know if the spreadsheet contains any errors.) Ten of the briefs dealt with religious liberty (encompassing statutory, Free Exercise, and Establishment Clause cases); six addressed abortion; three were about end-of-life issues; two involved the death penalty; and one addressed associational freedom. The chart below provides for crude comparisons among the Justices, placing them in an array of more or less agreement in their votes for the party (petitioner or respondent) supported by the USCCB’s amicus curiae briefs. Direct comparisons cannot be made among all the Justices due to the changing composition of the Court over this time period.

Justice Name

Agreement with Bishops’ Conference as Percentage of Cases

Agreement with Bishops’ Conference as Fraction of Cases

Justice White

100%

10/10

Justice Scalia (Catholic)

86%

19/22

Justice Kennedy (Catholic)            86%

18/21

Chief Justice Rehnquist

82%

18/22

Justice Thomas (Catholic)

79%

11/14

Justice O’Connor

77%

17/22

Justice Breyer

58%

7/12

Justice Souter

53%

8/15

Justice Brennan (Catholic)

43%

3/7

Justice Ginsburg

42%

5/12

Justice Stevens

36%

8/22

Justice Blackmun

20%

2/10

Justice Marshall

13%

1/8

The point of counting votes in this particular way is not to assess the influence of the Bishops’ Conference. It is highly doubtful that the Conference’s presence or absence as amicus curiae has had any effect on how the Justices voted. The point, instead, is to define the universe of cases in which the Bishops have an interest in the outcome and to see how hospitable various Justices have been to the claims advanced by the parties supported by the Bishops’ Conference amicus curiae briefs.

[Cross-posted at CLR Forum]

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During his time on the Rehnquist Court, Justice Brennan voted in seven cases in which the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (the “USCCB” or “Bishops’ Conference”) filed an amicus curiae brief. He voted for the party supported by the Bishops’ Conference in three out of those seven cases. By contrast, during his time on the Rehnquist Court, Justice White voted in ten cases in which the USCCB filed an amicus curiae brief (the same seven as Justice Brennan, plus three more). He voted for the party support by the Bishops’ Conference in all ten of those cases.

The low level of agreement between Justice Brennan and the Bishops’ Conference is notable given that Justice Brennan was the last beneficiary of a so-called “Catholic seat” on the Supreme Court.  And Justice Brennan’s voting pattern presents an interesting contrast with Justice White’s.  The contrast is noteworthy because President Kennedy appointed White. As the country’s first (and thus far only) Catholic President, Kennedy could not politically afford to nominate a Catholic to the Supreme Court.  By contrast, Brennan’s Catholicism was an important factor in making him an attractive nominee for Eisenhower.  Thus, one reason that Brennan was appointed is that he was a Catholic, while one reason White was appointed is that he was not a Catholic.  Yet White ended up consistently voting with the Catholic bishops on the Rehnquist Court, while Justice Brennan had one of the lowest rates of agreement during the same time period.

There were five other Justices who voted in all ten cases in which the Bishops’ Conference filed an amicus curiae brief and in which Justice White voted: Chief Justice Rehnquist, Justice Blackmun, Justice Stevens, Justice O’Connor, and Justice Scalia. Rehnquist and Scalia joined White in voting for the party supported by the Bishops’ Conference in all ten of these cases. Justice O’Connor voted for that party in eight out of those ten cases, Justice Stevens in three, and Justice Blackmun in two. In the first several years of the Rehnquist Court, then, the three Justices with the best track record from the point of view of the Bishops’ Conference consisted of two Protestants (Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice White) and one Catholic (Justice Scalia).

[Cross-posted at CLR Forum]

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For the next few weeks, I’ll be be guest-blogging over at CLR Forum, the blog associated with the Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s University School of Law. Some of the posts will discuss various aspects of a paper I’ve been working on that I recently presented at a law and religion conference at Pepperdine. I’ve reproduced my first CLR post below, and will continue to cross-post during my guest stint there. (more…)

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Today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch contains an op-ed that I authored about the availability of a claim under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act for religious organizations that object to the contraceptives mandate. The policy changes announced Friday are certainly a step in the right direction. But the RFRA litigation will continue.

The ending of the op-ed–written earlier in the week and quickly revised immediately after the President’s announcement on Friday afternoon–is more tentative than I now believe is warranted. I wrote: “Should legal action continue to be necessary — and it very well could as more details of the administration’s changed plan take shape — the federal courts remain open for the enforcement of Congress’ broad understanding of religious liberty against an unreliable executive branch.”

If Friday’s announcement is the Administration’s “final offer,” continued litigation will be necessary. The reason why is captured well in the following statement by a group of distinguished legal scholars:

The reason for the original bipartisan uproar was the administration’s  insistence that religious employers, be they institutions or individuals, provide insurance that  covered services they regard as gravely immoral and unjust. Under the new rule, the government  still coerces religious institutions and individuals to purchase insurance policies that include the very same services.

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Comments by Vice President Joe Biden yesterday suggest a more conciliatory approach by the Administration toward religious liberty objections to the contraceptives mandate. The Vice President said that people have not focused enough on the additional year that the HHS gave objecting institutions for coming into compliance: “There’s going to be a significant attempt to work this out, and there’s time to do that. And as a practicing Catholic, you know, I am of the view that this can be worked out and should be worked out and I think the president, I know the president, feels the same way.”

The Administration has less time than it may think to “work this out.” Thanks to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment, the Administration will need to answer in federal court well before another year has expired. The operative regulation is an “Interim Final Rule” approved on July 28, 2011, effective August 1, 2011, and published in the Federal Register on August 3, 2011 at 76 Fed. Reg. 46,621. The “interim” label does not prevent this regulation from being final agency action that is challengeable in federal court under the Administrative Procedure Act. Moreover, the “interim” label does not control the standing or ripeness analysis in any of the lawsuits that have been filed to date.  To the extent that the Vice President’s comments might suggest a rope-a-dope rulemaking strategy for the Administration to avoid having to answer in federal court for its violation of religious liberty, that strategy should not succeed.

In any event, the Vice President’s interpretation of the purpose of the one-year cannot be squared with the HHS’s announcement of it (an announcement that coincided, but not coincidentally, with marking of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade). As the announcement makes clear, the one-year period is for religious objectors to come into compliance–a transitional period for the groups to accommodate themselves to the new legal order imposed upon them. The HHS announcement provided every indication of having made a firm decision and no indication that its position, rather than that of the objectors, would yield.

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Linda Greenhouse’s Opinionator column today addresses “the escalating conflict over the new federal requirement that employers include contraception coverage without a co-pay in the insurance plans they make available to their employees.” The most interesting aspect of the column is what is missing from its legal analysis: any consideration of all the other ways that the Administration could ensure widespread access to low-cost contraception without violating the religious liberty of religious objectors. Perhaps one shouldn’t be surprised that the “tags” for the column are “birth control” and “Roman Catholic Church,” rather than “religious liberty” or “conscience.”

After beginning by criticizing the rhetoric of mandate opponents and noting the silence of mandate supporters on the question of conscience, Greenhouse states that “the purpose of this column is to examine the conscience claim itself, directly, to see whether it holds up.” But Greenhouse’s framing of the analysis reflects a basic misapprehension of the legal protections for religious liberty already embedded in federal law. Greenhouse writes that objecting religious institutions claim “a right to special treatment: to conscience that trumps law.” That is wrong: the objecting religious institutions claim that the mandate violates federal law. They do not argue that conscience “trumps law.” Far from placing conscience over law, the objecting institutions advance a claim under the law.

After misframing the issue as whether conscience trumps law, Greenhouse devotes two paragraphs to explaining why “that is not a principle that our legal system embraces.” These two paragraphs discuss the Supreme Court’s discussion in Employment Division v. Smith, a 1990 decision authored by Justice Scalia. Only after discussing Smith does Greenhouse turn to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”). In the journalism business, this is known as burying the lede. The RFRA is where the principal legal action will be in the lawsuits challenging the contraceptives mandate.

Having submerged the real legal basis for the objectors’ claims, Greenhouse then leaves out the part of the RFRA‘s test that will be hardest for the Administration to satisfy. The RFRA provides that the federal government cannot substantially burden the exercise of religion unless doing so is the least restrictive means of accomplishing a compelling government interest. Yet Greenhouse’s discussion contains no mention at all of the “least restrictive means” part of the test. Instead, Greenhouse says that a RFRA challenge “would pit the well-rehearsed public health arguments . . . against religious doctrine.” The omission is telling, because the weakest part of the government’s case will be this least restrictive means requirement. There are so many other ways for the federal government to accomplish its objectives that it should lose the RFRA claims on precisely this point.

Earlier in her column, Greenhouse notes the lack of a “full-throated defense” of the contraceptives mandate, “except on pure policy grounds.” The best explanation for the silence of the mandate supporters with respect to religious liberty may be the simplest: nobody likes to pick a fight that they cannot win.

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Michael Gerson has another powerful commentary on the illiberalism of the Obama Administration’s “final decision that Catholic universities, hospitals and charities will be compelled to pay for health insurance that covers sterilization, contraceptives and abortifacients.” Gerson writes:

 Obama is claiming the executive authority to determine which missions of believers are religious and which are not — and then to aggressively regulate institutions the government declares to be secular. It is a view of religious liberty so narrow and privatized that it barely covers the space between a believer’s ears.

Obama’s decision also reflects a certain view of liberalism. Classical liberalism was concerned with the freedom to hold and practice beliefs at odds with a public consensus. Modern liberalism uses the power of the state to impose liberal values on institutions it regards as backward. It is the difference between pluralism and anti-­clericalism.

(HT: Mirror of Justice)

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Today is the Feast of St. John Bosco (Don Bosco). He was a remarkable man. In honor of his feast, here is an instrumental rendition of Friend of the Young and the Poor, a song by Fr. Stephen Schenck, SDB.

You were the light in the dark for the young who could not see

And you were a spark for the young to become all they could be

Help us all come to be all that God calls us to be

We will send the message

We will be the witnesses that you, Don Bosco, are the friend of the young and the poor

Lead us safely through the storm to the heavenly shore

 

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