Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Controversy Over Catholic Majority On US Supreme Court?

Alito troubled by concerns over court's Catholics

PHILADELPHIA -- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito voiced frustration Tuesday over what he called persistent questions about the court's Roman Catholic majority.

Alito aired the topic in a speech to an Italian-American law group in Philadelphia.

"There has been so much talk lately about the number of Catholics serving on the Supreme Court," Alito said in a speech to the Justinian Society. "This is one of those questions that does not die."

Alito complained about "respectable people who have seriously raised the questions in serious publications about whether these individuals could be trusted to do their jobs."

He said he thought the Constitution settled the question long ago with its guarantee of religious freedom.

Alito, 59, the son of an Italian immigrant, is one of six justices on the nine-member court who were raised Catholic, including new Justice Sonia Sotomayor. A dozen of the 111 jurists in the court's history have been Catholic.

The Roman Catholic Church endorses positions on several high-profile legal issues, including abortion, the death penalty and gay marriage. Some commentators have argued that Catholics in the court's conservative voting bloc - Chief John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Alito - are likely to oppose abortion or otherwise apply Catholic teachings to their rulings.

In a telephone interview, Notre Dame law professor Richard W. Garnett echoed Alito's comment that the religion of qualified justices will not determine their views of pending cases, even if their experiences might shade it.

"It's not the calling of a Catholic judge to enforce the teachings of the faith. It's the calling of a Catholic judge, as well as he or she can, to interpret and apply the laws of the political community," Garnett said.

However, noting Sotomayor's "wise Latina woman" comment, he added: "No one thinks the moral commitments of a judge are irrelevant. I don't think anybody can completely put aside who they are."

Bill Donahue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said he believes the focus on the religious makeup of the court is really a ruse.

"I think it comes down to one issue, it's abortion," he said. "The people who are complaining about Alito and Roberts are the same people who would have nine Nancy Pelosis on the Supreme Court who are pro-choice Catholics."

President George W. Bush nominated Alito to the high court four years ago from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

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