Politics & Policy

Serving Justice

Some Senate votes say so much.

Could it be that the cynics are wrong? Could it be that, despite rhetorical and spending evidence to the contrary, the Senate does, in fact, have a conscience? A vote this evening on the nomination of J. Leon Holmes could be a key indicator.

Holmes was nominated by President Bush as a federal district-court judge for Arkansas more than 17 months ago. His nomination was followed by heated disputes which exploded during Senate Judiciary Committee hearings. Holmes’s critics can’t fault him for his legal expertise. Frankly, they can’t stand the fact that he’s Catholic. Not only is he Catholic, but unlike some Catholic members of the Senate and Judiciary Committee, he accepts fully the teachings of his faith, including the parts that reject abortion. To his critics, that also makes him a misogynist.

During the Judiciary Committee proceedings, instead of focusing on his legal record, senators chose instead to attack his religious faith. There was a time when strong religious faith was a sign of virtue and integrity. Now, it’s a disqualifer.

On the other hand, some pro-choice politicians, like Holmes’s own Senator Blanche Lincoln and Senator Mark Pryor, have agreed to disagree on the issue of abortion and have endorsed Holmes’s nomination. Numerous pro-choice Democrat attorneys who have worked with Holmes have also endorsed his nomination, including Stephen Engstrom, a former board member of a local Planned Parenthood Chapter in Arkansas. Even though they disagree on abortion, they respect his professional accomplishments.

During the Judiciary Committee hearing on April 10, 2003, Senator Durbin who describes himself as “a person with a Catholic background,” took odds with Holmes over a 1997 article written by Holmes and his wife, Susan, in which they discussed Christian marriage. For nearly 2,000 years, millions of Christians have subscribed to biblical precepts on marriage, including Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 5 that wives obey their husbands. For many Christians, it’s understood much more subtlely–they know the context. A wife obeys her husband and he loves her as Christ loves the Church, even to the point of dying for her. They understand that Christianity maintains the equal dignity of all men and women. The Catholic Church has long understood that marriage involves the mutual gift of self for both husband and wife. That’s where Holmes is coming from.

But this is all theology, which was presented in a Catholic publication, not a legal brief, and Leon Holmes is being considered for a judicial position. Ironically, his philosophy of marriage suggests something the Senate should encourage: His theology is consistent with his faith. Likewise, he follows the law with the same consistency and integrity–a relief from our crowd of activist judges.

The protests of Holmes’s opponents suggest that no one can be pro-life and within the law. In reality, Roe v. Wade was one Supreme Court decision, just like Dred Scott and Buck v. Bell (allowing involuntary sterilization by the State), which were overturned by our judicial process. Holmes, like any citizen, has the right to disagree with a particular decision and wish it to be overturned. That in no way indicates that he considers himself outside of or above the law.

In a April 2003 hearing, Senator Durbin referenced all three of these Supreme Court cases because Holmes had cited them as cases with which he disagreed. All three, in Holmes’s opinion (which is shared by a large number of Americans) fail to “respect the worth and dignity of the human person.” Of course, he’s not alone. But Senator Durbin dismisses these concerns and simply maintains that Roe must be upheld. But Holmes hasn’t argued that the law be broken. His convictions indicate that the law should be changed, a completely different and acceptable scenario.

During these 17 months since his nomination, Holmes’s opponents have not been able to criticize even a single aspect of his legal career and abilities. This alone should be grounds for confirming his nomination.

Were he to be a man of less integrity, like some of the senators who support abortion and profess deeply held religious beliefs which nonetheless contradict abortion, they would have no problem with him. As he stands now, he is a constant reminder to some Catholic senators of the responsibilities that accompany the religious beliefs with which they freely identify themselves. He is a constant reminder to others who pride themselves on integrity that if they profess certain beliefs, their actions should be in accord with them.

Pia de Solenni is the director of life and women’s issues at the Family Research Council, Washington, D.C.


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