Readers Respond: Evangelicals and the Supreme Court

Dobson and TrumpHere is a response to my very recent post “Evangelicals Hopes for a Conservative Supreme Court Rest in the Hands of Someone Nearly Incapable of Telling the Truth.”

Voting on prospective Supreme Court nominees is a bit of a Hail Mary pass in several ways. First, as you note, there’s the question of will the president come through? (Conservatives weren’t too thrilled with Harriet Meiers, eg, and if the appointment had come earlier in the Bush administration, they may have gotten her.)

Second, will the justices actually deliver what conservatives want? Chief Justice Roberts is persona non grata with conservatives ever since the ACA decision. Scalia authored Smith, which has caused all kinds of headaches.

The record on abortion and homosexuality is even dodgier. Roe v Wade was authored by a Republican appointee, and 5 of the 7 justices in the majority were appointed by Republicans. Lawrence, which struck down state laws enforcing moral norms, was also authored by a Republican appointee, and 4 of the 6 justices voting in the majority were appointed by Republicans. Obergefell also was authored by a Republican appointee.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t a rational choice to vote for whoever the Republican candidate is, in the hopes that he or she might appoint satisfactory judges (and in the fear a Democrat won’t–though 100% of Clinton’s and Obama’s appointees voted in the majority on Hosanna-Tabor, the most critical religious freedom case in a generation).

But, given the spotty track record, the idea that it is mandatory or obligatory for Christians to do so seems questionable in the extreme. Especially so when so many other things about the candidates are decidedly not equal.

-John Haas

19 thoughts on “Readers Respond: Evangelicals and the Supreme Court

  1. I gave you the updated information. I cannot help it if you choose to link outdated information in an attempt to bolster your claim.

    This is not a one issue campaign. If you think that abortion is the litmus test, that is purely your opinion. It is not the opinion of the Catholic Church. It may be the opinion of some in the Church, but not all. Giving Trump the keys to the nuclear arsenal and letting him use them outweighs abortion easily.

    Again, I stress this point. Neither party has a moral advantage over the other. Abortion is a mortal sin. There are plenty of others that are its equal and Trump has in his own words committed mortal sins.

    You can try to make this a one issue campaign, but it doesn’t hold water.

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  2. Direct quote please, sir. I believe you are in error in calling capital punishment a mortal sin.

    http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/religion-and-philosophy/social-justice/catholicism-amp-capital-punishment.html

    Avery Cardinal Dulles as of 2001:

    The Catholic magisterium does not, and never has, advocated unqualified abolition of the death penalty. I know of no official statement from popes or bishops, whether in the past or in the present, that denies the right of the State to execute offenders at least in certain extreme cases. The United States bishops, in their majority statement on capital punishment, conceded that “Catholic teaching has accepted the principle that the State has the right to take the life of a person guilty of an extremely serious crime.” Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, in his famous speech on the “Consistent Ethic of Life” at Fordham in 1983, stated his concurrence with the “classical position” that the State has the right to inflict capital punishment.

    Although Cardinal Bernardin advocated what he called a “consistent ethic of life,” he made it clear that capital punishment should not be equated with the crimes of abortion, euthanasia, and suicide.Pope John Paul II spoke for the whole Catholic tradition when he proclaimed in Evangelium Vitae (1995) that “the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral.” But he wisely included in that statement the word “innocent.” He has never said that every criminal has a right to live nor has he denied that the State has the right in some cases to execute the guilty.

    Neither have you responded to my argument, or any of them. It is you who are back on square one. As am I.

    if you’re going to say “Abortion is intrinsically evil, but…” you better have a helluva but to follow. A thousand merely bad things do not add up to one grave evil.

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  3. Let’s see what the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have to say about the death penalty. http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/death-penalty-capital-punishment/catholic-campaign-to-end-the-use-of-the-death-penalty.cfm

    While we are at it, let us keep in mind that Catholic teaching as it applies to the death penalty in the US makes the death penalty a mortal sin since the state has the capacity to prevent those it would execute from being a danger to the society.

    You are back to square one. This is not a one issue election and the GOP does not have any moral advantage over any other political party.

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  4. However, condemning someone to death (death penalty) is also murder and a mortal sin.

    Perhaps in your opinion but that is not the position of the Catholic Church

    https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2015/03/16/the-traditional-case-for-capital-punishment/

    or any that I’m aware of.

    I reject the use of abortion as a single issue because there are a lot of other issues which carry the same weight as abortion in this campaign.

    Again in your opinion, but you have not made what those issues might be explicit, and if you’re attempting to rebut me

    if you’re going to say “Abortion is intrinsically evil, but…” you better have a helluva but to follow. A thousand merely bad things do not add up to one grave evil.

    you may begin any time you wish. I don’t believe you’re addressing my argument

    A thousand merely bad things do not add up to one grave evil.

    What is wrong is to do evil to attempt to accomplish good, which is again, an excuse made in tolerating abortion and its proponents.

    which I believe is in line with the teaching of the Catholic Church, of which you self-designate as a member.

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  5. John,

    My point is that if abortion is a grave evil that we must prioritize over all other issues, then we should be working in all avenues which might lead to fewer abortions. Putting all, or most, of ones energies into getting the Supreme Court to render abortion illegal seems to me to be pyrrhic at best. This is especially true if in getting the Supreme Court justices you want ends up in policies that encourage women who get pregnant to seek abortions–legally or illegally. There are two “if-thens.”

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  6. http://www.ushistory.org/gop/convention_1856republicanplatform.htm

    As you can see by looking at the Republican Platform of 1856 there was more than slavery involved. I would not compare slavery as an issue to abortion as an issue and give them the same weight. Abortion is nowhere close to being the issue that slavery was in the antebellum era.

    One can easily say that abortion is murder, therefore it is a mortal sin. However, condemning someone to death (death penalty) is also murder and a mortal sin. They carry the same weight. In Catholic teaching, mortal sins are the same. Sex outside of marriage is a mortal sin and has the same weight as abortion does.

    If you want a political party that is only about abortion, then by all means start it. I reject the use of abortion as a single issue because there are a lot of other issues which carry the same weight as abortion in this campaign. Neither party has a moral advantage over the other.

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  7. “Single-issue” is a handy technique to dismiss that issue. But if you’re going to say “Abortion is intrinsically evil, but…” you better have a helluva but to follow. A thousand merely bad things do not add up to one grave evil.

    FTR, the Republican Party was formed to oppose a specific evil, a “single issue.” There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that. What is wrong is to do evil to attempt to accomplish good, which is again, an excuse made in tolerating abortion and its proponents.

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  8. It is pretty obvious, Tom, that you are defining the election on one issue. It cannot be done. The GOP has policies which are not in line with Catholic teachings. You are just picking one issue and trying to use it to get conservatives elected.

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  9. You can’t leave Trump out of it. This is not a one issue election. As a Catholic, I believe that abortion is a mortal sin. Yet, when it comes to voting, there are a lot of other issues to examine.

    I’ve commented on this before, but John doesn’t seem to want to approve my replies.

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  10. rschooler, my argument is in the “if-then” format, ie, if we consider abortion to be a grave evil of such magnitude that it can deserve to be the single issue which determines our vote, then what are the threshold conditions or possibilities which operationalizes that?

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  11. Several questions would follow, that any voter concerned about these things would need to consider:

    1) How confident are they that those prognostications are correct? What reason is there to believe they are? How amenable is our system of divided government to those sorts of changes? Do those making these predictions have a track record of success, such that we should take them at their word? Should anyone be taken at their word when it comes to predicting the future?

    2. Assuming there is a reasonable degree of likelihood of some or all of these things occurring, is it obvious that I should allow that probability to control my vote? Does believing that abortion is a grave evil such that if it were to hang in the balance, it would justify single issue voting, entail elevating mandatory ultrasounds and etc. to the same level of importance?

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  12. War is certainly on par, a matter of life and death. If you think Trump will get more people killed than Hillary, you’re in the moral clear.

    Bringing in issues of economic policy on which persons of good will and conscience can differ–and on which no factual certainty seems possible–is a category error and not the sort of clarity you seek and praise here. This is not a history or political question.

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  13. A voter might also believe that abortion is a grave evil, but at the same time conclude from the historical record and from their knowledge of our political processes, that in this election, there is unlikely to be any significant impact on abortion whichever major party candidate is elected

    Yes, but my argument stipulates that although Roe will stand if Trump wins, if Hillary wins,

    the restrictions on abortion that pro-life advocates worked for tirelessly over the last 43 years, including ultrasound requirements, waiting periods, parental consent requirements, and prohibitions on non-doctors performing abortions.

    certainly will not.

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  14. I am wondering about the wisdom of being a one-issue voter—whatever that one issue is. If abortion is that one issue, imagine that it was made illegal, but we were led into a costly and unnecessary war in which there were many casualties and the resulting social problems overwhelmed the safety net. In addition, trade policies led to a huge downturn in the economy. If that were the case, was the making of abortion illegal worth it?

    What if your one issue is income inequality? Suppose that taxes were raised on the super-rich and ways were found to spread the wealth in a more equal fashion. But, trade policies led to a big downturn in the economy and many of the super wealthy families moved to countries that had tax polices they found more favorable. The new money going to the 90% was thus be so small that the 90% might just be worse off than before. Draconian government involvement would be necessary to right the ship, but the bill would come due later.

    Of course, I’m supposing worse-case scenarios. But, I am arguing that one should take a whole range of issues into account when voting. Also, there are personal characteristics that differentiate candidates. The ideal does not exist. So, we are left with sizing up the whole person as to temperament, abilities, experience, and character. While this is much more difficult that just voting on one issue or one personal characteristic, I think it is a much more responsible way to vote.

    Then, of course, there are facts on which to make choices. People throw these at us all the time to convince us either that we are right, or that we need to rethink our position (mostly the former). I had a discussion with a right-wing relative this morning. His facts seemed to me to contradict general understanding. He got them from a right-wing web site and had no plans to check them out against other sources. He told me how much the Democrats had destroyed business and the economy. I asked him how well he was doing. He said that he was doing very well. And, that anyone who followed his pattern of living could also succeed. Whoa! I said that the Democrats hadn’t done him much harm. His answer was that it was not for the lack of trying. A Democrat might say it was for the trying. This is an example of how we all tend to believe what we want to believe. I am a strong advocate that we need to be aware that this strong human tendency is alive and well in ourselves as well as our supposed adversaries. We might be wrong—and most likely we are in some respect or another that we are unaware of. This is why we need John Feas in every discipline who use the historical thinking skills to give us some clarity on what might be a lot closer to reality than that we suppose without thorough thoughtfulness.

    Doesn’t reality tell us that Roe v Wade is not going away very soon? Why not work on those things that will lead to fewer abortions through moral persuasion? Not only that, why not create an environment where the reasons why women have abortions are lessened? These things will do more to affect the goal than any law. When the vast majority of Americans believe that abortion is criminal and that the practitioner and the woman must receive serious penalties, then a law will be helpful in further reducing the number of abortions. As a comparison, we have very strict drug laws with heavy penalties. But, because a good number of people do not agree with these laws, they are flouted every day by otherwise moral and law-abiding people. We do not yet have a consensus on how to deal with this serious social issue. The War on Drugs has not had the results we wanted. The war on abortion could well be seen as analogous.

    Politics is a necessary and dirty business. We have to get our hands dirty to accomplish the general good.

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  15. I’m proceeding on the assumption that abortion is a “grave evil.” If a voter believes that voting for a candidate who may appoint a justice or justices “who will uphold Roe v Wade and associated rulings and policies” is to be complicit in that evil in a way that their conscience disallows, then it is certainly reasonable for that voter to choose not to vote for that (or those) candiate/s.

    A voter might also believe that abortion is a grave evil, but at the same time conclude from the historical record and from their knowledge of our political processes, that in this election, there is unlikely to be any significant impact on abortion whichever major party candidate is elected, and that they are therefore obligated to vote in a way that will mitigate harm and enhance goods in other areas.

    Or, as I said, they can conclude that, having having reckoned with the evidence and said all that, they feel obligated to vote for whoever the Republican candidate is because there is a better chance that that candidate will govern in ways that will mitigate the harms caused by abortion.

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  16. Again, John, the premise is “depends on how grave an evil you believe abortion is.” If other factors do not meet the definition of “intrinsically evil” that abortion does–literally a matter of life or death–then no moral calculus is possible: There is not a choice between two evils, only complicity with one evil.

    Hillary’s support for killing the Hyde Amendment is for an active, not a passive complicity with evil. This is more than shrugging her shoulders at an evil that cannot be successfully rectified at this time.

    As for Roe itself, it’s true that this election will not overturn it. However, as Grudem argues it’s not the whole megillah that’s at stake:

    On abortion, a liberal court would probably find the ban on partial-birth abortion to be unconstitutional (it was upheld by only a 5-4 majority in Gonzalez v. Carhart, 2007). In addition, the court could find an absolute “right to abortion” in the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution and then sweep away with one decision most or all of the restrictions on abortion that pro-life advocates worked for tirelessly over the last 43 years, including ultrasound requirements, waiting periods, parental consent requirements, and prohibitions on non-doctors performing abortions.

    So it would certainly be with any efforts to place legal limitations on abortion. Nobody would campaign any more for laws to limit abortions, because any such laws would be unconstitutional. The legislative lobbying work of pro-life advocacy groups would be totally and utterly defeated. Millions of unborn children would continue to die.

    I don’t see how this argument is refutable. There is no “likely” or “unlikely” involved here, especially the latter argument. This is a certainty.

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  17. It is unclear whether Tom Van Dyke’s argument is that it is morally unacceptable for a Christian to assist in the election of Hillary Clinton (because she has crossed some line somewhere on the abortion issue), or if he is arguing that it is morally unacceptable for a Christian to assist in the election of any president who is likely to appoint justices who uphold Roe v Wade and associated rulings and policies.

    The former position only obtains if it is clearly and obviously the case (to the individual voter’s conscience) that Clinton’s actual governance on the abortion issue will have significantly different effects from what we’ve seen in the past from other presidents, and are likely to see from the other candidate in this election. If it is not clear and obvious–if the voter is unconvinced that abortion policies under a Clinton administration will be significantly different than what can reasonably be expected under a Trump administration–then it makes little sense to insist that the Christian voter is morally mandated to facilitate a Trump administration, and prevent a Clinton administration. That would mean the Christian voter is morally obligated to perform an action that makes no difference.

    If he is arguing that it is morally unacceptable for a Christian to assist in the election of any president who is likely to appoint justices who will uphold Roe v Wade and associated rulings and policies, that would be a more consistent and defensible argument, but it would morally mandate withholding one’s vote from both parties’ candidates in this, and probably all, presidential elections. That is certainly a position an individual Christian might feel conscience bound to adopt, but it would be just as reasonable for a Christian to conclude that if he or she cannot know what difference their vote will make regarding abortion, or if they sincerely judge that there is unlikely to be any significant difference as a result of the election, then they might reasonably decide that they are morally obligated to take into account other issues where they believe they can foresee good or harm resulting from the election.

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  18. But, given the spotty track record, the idea that it is mandatory or obligatory for Christians to do so seems questionable in the extreme.

    Depends on how grave an evil you believe abortion is. Leaving Trump out of it, it’s valid to argue that it is “mandatory or obligatory” to do everything you can to stop Hillary’s election. If the record of Republican Supreme Court nominees is spotty, the record of Democrat ones is sterling: There is zero chance of Hillary naming anyone who is the least bit hostile to abortion restrictions.

    Pardon me for not scouring, but I challenge anyone to find Democrat appointees anytime in last 50 years on the pro-life side of a decision. [Even if any, they would be the wildest of exceptions.]

    Further, Hillary is on record favoring killing the Hyde Amendment, which bars the government from financing abortions. This is not merely a “pro-choice” position, this would actively promote abortion.

    Again, that alone is valid reason to argue that for a Christian to assist her election is morally unacceptable. This is complicity in evil, not flaccid toleration of it.

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