Bench Memos

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Geoff Stone’s Disingenuous Retreat


Geoff Stone now tells us that his anti-Catholic tirade was intended merely to “pose the question” about what role the Catholic faith of the five justices in the majority played in their decision in the partial-birth abortion case.  One problem with that claim is that Stone plainly was not posing the question.  He was purporting to answer it, and his answer was (in ways that I have previously explained) ignorant and bigoted:

What, then, explains this decision? Here is a painfully awkward observation: All five justices in the majority in Gonzales are Catholic. The four justices who are either Protestant or Jewish all voted in accord with settled precedent. It is mortifying to have to point this out. But it is too obvious, and too telling, to ignore. Ultimately, the five justices in the majority all fell back on a common argument to justify their position. There is, they say, a compelling moral reason for the result in Gonzales. Because the intact D & E seems to resemble infanticide it is “immoral” and may be prohibited even without a clear statutory exception to protect the health of the woman.

By making this judgment, these justices have failed to respect the fundamental difference between religious belief and morality. To be sure, this can be an elusive distinction, but in a society that values the separation of church and state, it is fundamental. The moral status of a fetus is a profoundly difficult and rationally unresolvable question. As the Supreme Court has recognized for more than thirty years, when the fundamental right of a woman “to determine her life’s course” is at stake, it is not for the state — or for the justices of the Supreme Court — to resolve that question, and it is certainly not appropriate for the state or the justices to resolve it on the basis of one’s personal religious faith….

As the Court observed fifteen years ago, “Some of us as individuals find abortion offensive to our most basic principles of morality, but than cannot control our decision. Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code.” It is sad that Justices Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito have chosen not to follow this example.  

A second problem is that if Stone had a genuine scholarly interest in the question of how a justice’s moral or religious views affect or distort that justice’s decisionmaking, it would seem more promising for him to focus on those justices who regularly read the Constitution to entrench their own views, rather than on those who merely defer to democratic enactments. 


Tags: Whelan


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