Steven Waldman

One of the message board posters, Rev. Martin Fox, took me to task for suggesting that the Bishops might criticize Sonia Sotomayor for being a pro-choice (maybe) Catholic.

“Mr. Waldman’s post misunderstands, or fails to appreciate, the distinctions the Catholic Church carefully makes between the moral responsibilities of a legislator (note, not just Catholic legislators) regarding defense of all human life, and the moral responsibilities of a judge, who must evaluate and interpret laws enacted by legislators.
A Catholic judge is in no way obliged by the Church to uphold or strike down laws based on desired outcomes, but is expected to uphold ones oath and act in accordance with the law.”

Indeed, it’s a point Antonin Scalia made in First Things when he wrote, “a judge, I think, bears no moral guilt for the laws society has failed to enact.”
It’s a fair criticism; I should have pointed out that distinction.
However, it’s also worth noting that some scholars believe that Pope Benedict has amended that distinction to place more of an obligation on Catholic judges to follow church teachings on abortion. Doug Kmiec in Time took note of this statement from the Vatican in February:

“His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the church’s consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death which enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in cooperation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development.” [my emphasis]

Kmiec suggested that the inclusion of the word “jurist” may have reflected a radical change, wiping out any distinction between the moral obligations of a Catholic lawmaker and a Catholic judge. It reflected, Kmeic suggested, “a new admonition to ‘jurists’ to undertake an activist, law-changing role.”
UPDATE: Father Fox continues to chide me for ignorance about Catholic law. To be clear, the reason this post was a question, not a statement, is that I do not know, and have not ventured an opinion about, whether judges and lawmakers get treated the same under Catholic teaching. I had a far more modest point: that politically, her being a pro-choice Catholic will likely become an issue.
Today, the equally-ignorant Amy Sullivan of Time magazine writes that Sotomayor “could also find herself on a collision course with the Vatican” as the “latest target of those who believe that Catholic politicians and judges must oppose abortion rights.”

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