Words Not to Use Lightly When You Are Pope

May 9, 2007

One of those words has to be “excommunication.”

Pope Benedict XVI touched down in the world’s biggest Roman Catholic country yesterday hoping to help reverse a 20-year exodus to Brazil’s reborn evangelical churches, but immediately created controversy when he appeared to suggest that legislators who support laws allowing abortions should be excommunicated.

During a press conference on his flight to Sao Paulo, the Pope for the first time dealt in depth with a topic that has come up in many countries, including the United States, Mexico, and Italy.

He was asked whether he supported Mexican church leaders threatening to excommunicate leftist parliamentarians who last month voted to legalise abortion in Mexico City.

“Yes, this excommunication was not an arbitrary one but is allowed by canon (church) law which says that the killing of an innocent child is incompatible with receiving communion, which is receiving the body of Christ,” he said.

The Vatican’s chief spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, later tried to downplay the comments, saying the Pope was not himself ordering excommunications.

The denial of communication to politicians who support abortion rights is, of course, a familiar issue in the United States, with the John Kerry situation in 2004. Will this issue affect Rudy Giuliani this time around?


Rudy: Don’t bother me with this abortion crap

May 9, 2007

The Wednesday Washington Post bluntly calls Rudy Giuliani’s recent statements on abortion “rambling and sometimes contradictory” and recounts his appearance yesterday on Laura Ingraham’s radio show to try to make amends.

When Ingraham ended the segment with a standard line about his returning again, a clearly agitated Giuliani responded: “I would love to come back, but you’re going to have to ask me about the war on terror and what we do about the economy, which is after all what most citizens ask me about.”

“Well, conservatives are citizens, too, Mayor Giuliani!” Ingraham responded. “We’re citizens, too.”

It would be nice to have the audio of this to judge just how “agitated” Rudy really was for ourselves.

In any event, it sounds really arrogant for Giuliani to be brushing aside an issue that a lot of people care about so passionately. The campaign must have done some advance planning on how to handle the inevitable questions about Rudy’s abortion stance, right? If they did, it’s not showing these days.


Bill Donohue Wants More Catholics on the Court

April 26, 2007

That darling of the liberal blogosphere Bill Donohue, head of the Catholic League, is at it again, criticizing those who dare wonder about the all-Catholic five-justice majority in last week’s Supreme Court decision on partial birth abortion (the four dissenting justices were all non-Catholics). Here’s Donohue’s view on religion’s role in the legal system.

The pushback from conservative Catholics was immediate, even pre-emptive. Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, declared, “We need more, not fewer, Catholics on the Supreme Court.”

I still subscribe to the quaint idea that judges should uphold the laws and the Constitution, rather than the tenets of any particular religious faith.


Charles Fried’s Confusion

April 26, 2007

While I’m criticizing Thursday op-eds, Charles Fried of Harvard Law School has a column in the New York Times titled “Supreme Confusion” in which he argues that the Supreme Court’s recent partial birth abortion decision doesn’t fit with precedent.

Still, this most recent decision is disturbing, because in 2000, in a similar case, the Supreme Court struck down a Kansas partial birth abortion ban. The Kansas law was unacceptably vague, but the principal reason for the court’s earlier decision was that there was responsible medical opinion that sometimes the procedure was less risky for the mother, and therefore in such cases the ban posed an undue burden.

I have no direct quibble with Fried’s analysis, but the fact that the law at issue in the 2000 case came from Nebraska, not Kansas, hurts the professor’s credibility.

Maybe there was a companion case involving a Kansas law, in which case Fried could be correct, though I see no indication of that in my Googling. Once I see a basic mistake like this, it’s hard for me to take the rest of what an author has to say seriously.

UPDATE: They changed the online article to say Nebraska instead of Kansas. Not sure what appeared in the print edition today.


Stenberg and the Partial Birth Decision

April 18, 2007

Former Nebraska Attorney General Don Stenberg, whose name is attached to the 2000 Supreme Court case of Stenberg v. Carhart that struck down that state’s partial birth abortion ban, knows that the change in Court personnel accounts for the opposite result in today’s partial birth decision:

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling today gives Nebraska the “partial-birth” abortion ban it unsuccessfully sought seven years ago, former Attorney General Don Stenberg said.

Stenberg said the ban upheld today is similar to a Nebraska law that the high court struck down. In its ruling today, the court said the federal ban it upheld was narrower than Nebraska’s attempted ban.

He said a change in the makeup of the Supreme Court is why the ban was upheld today.

“It shows how important it is who is serving on the court and what their judicial philosophy is,” said Stenberg, who in April of 2000 appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Nebraska’s 1997 law banning “partial-birth” abortions.

Over at SCOTUSblog, Marty Lederman notes “The Profound Effects of Justice O’Connor’s Retirement” and  Lyle Dennitson reviews the angry reaction of Justice Ginsburg:

She said the federal ban “and the Court’s defense of it cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this Court — and with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women’s lives. A decision of the character the Court makes today should not have staying power.”

That final comment, concluding angry remarks that were delivered without an open display of emotion, clearly was a suggestion that the ruling might not survive new appointments to the Court — just as the arrival of Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and, especially, Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. — had led to the switch she claimed had come about this time. Ginsburg pointedly noted that the Court is “differently composed than it was when we last considered a restrictive abortion regulation” — in Stenberg in 2000.

I’m far from a constitutional scholar, and I’m aware that such people write treatises on things like this, but I wonder: how can the Supreme Court set aside the 2000 partial birth decision only seven years later and permit this ban?

I understand that the 5-4 majority in today’s decision did not directly overturn Stenberg, and that the 2003 law Congress passed was slightly different from the Nebraska ban in some ways, but everyone realizes that this change happened because the makeup of the Court changed. Doesn’t that take away the respect people should have for the law when the results on contentious issues are so malleable? Or is it perfectly OK to say that elections have consequences, including this one?