Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Refuting Conservative Talking Points on Sotomayor

There may be REAL concerns for both conservatives and liberals about the nomination of Judge Sotomayor for SCOTUS.  I have questions and I’d be surprised if there was anyone who didn’t.  That’s why we have confirmation hearings.  But the rightwing noise machine (otherwise known as 2/3 of the mainstream media) is already throwing up numerous stupid talking points against her. Conservatives as well as liberals should quickly want to shut these up–because they will prevent discussion of real issues and could lead to such a backlash against opposition to Sotomayor that no real discussion of real issues happens.

  • Sotomayor is “not intelligent.”  This has been said by numerous talking heads, but the funniest version is by Karl Rove, the Bush campaign manager.  First, Rove never graduated from ANY college–something even AK Gov. Sarah Palin managed after transferring repeatedly.  Look it up. Rove has a high school education.  By contrast, Judge Sotomayor, who grew up in poverty in the Bronx, graduated from Cardinal Spellman High School as valedictorian in 1972.  She was on the school forensics (debate) team and school government.  She won an academic scholarship to Princeton University (one of the finest U.S. universities) where she graduated summa cum laude (with highest honors) and Phi Beta Kappa. She graduated Princeton SECOND in her entire class.  She then went to Yale University Law School (consistently rated the top law school in the nation by U.S. News and World Report) where she edited the Yale Law Review, again, something that only the top academic achievers get.  Rove says, “I know many stupid people who went to Ivy League schools.”  Well, he knows George W. Bush who got into Yale and then Harvard Business School (MBA) because of who his father was and then partied and made “Cs.” That doesn’t compare AT ALL to Sotomayor.  Attacking her intelligence is, frankly, stupid.
  • “The food she likes  (traditional Puerto Rican) could influence her judgments.”  Seriously? Her FOOD?
  • “She’s a reverse racist!”  This takes a speech out of context where she describes the way her ethnicityand gender naturally color her outlook.  But the full quote  shows that she CAUTIONS AGAINST being unduly influenced by her life story.  Life story and diverse perspective were cited as POSITIVES by Republicans when speaking about Justice Clarence Thomas’ blackness and childhood poverty and about Justice Alito’s childhood poverty and remembrance of the descrimination his ancestors faced as immigrants and Catholic.  When Alberto Gonzalez was up for Atty. General (and turned out to be one of the worst ever), conservatives specifically labelled any questioning of his qualifications or views as anti-Latino racism.  So this “reverse racist” label they are trying to hang on Sotomayor is going to backfire badly. (Update:  Former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO), the racist and xenophobic former candidate for president whose anti-immigrant rhetoric helped move Colorado out of Republican hands, is claiming that Judge Sotomayor is racist because she belongs to  La Raza, a Latino civil rights organization which Tancredo compares to the KKK!  In fact, La Raza, the largest national Latino civil rights and advocacy organization, is more like the NAACP.  Ask any Latino–La Raza is FAR from radical. It’s tame and only xenophobes like Tancredo who project their own racism on others would think otherwise.  How far is La Raza NOT a “Latino KKK?” Both Bush and Rove spoke to it before–back when the GOP was trying to win Latinos rather than alienate them.  Of course, John McCain was keynote speaker for ACORN one year before trying to make them public enemy number one during last year’s presidential campaign, so consistency is rare in politics!) 
  • “She’s hot tempered and a bully on the court.”  This rumor came from anonymous sources that Jeff Rosen of The New Republic claimed were from colleagues, clerks, etc.  It has been widely debunked and Rosen has backtracked. (Update: I had pushed “publish” instead of draft. I meant to include K. Gray’s claim that “negative assessments of her demeanor” are also entered in an official registry of judges, but I hadn’t had a chance to look that up. It still strikes me as a stupid talking points for the reasons that follow.) But let’s suppose it is true.  It is well known that Justice Scalia is a hot-tempered bully and no one claims that disqualifies him as a SCOTUS justice.  This is sexist stereotyping.  A man stands up for himself or argues forcefully for a viewpoint and is called “assertive.” A woman does the same thing and is called “aggressive,” “a pushy broad,” etc.  We are not deciding a personality contest here.
  • “She’s been reversed by the Supreme Court 60% of the time!” Umm, actually, as the SCOTUS justices themselves say, that’s an excellent record.  When Justice Alito was an appellate court judge, he was reversed by the SCOTUS 100% of the time! Judge Sotomayor has been the primary author of 380 decisions as a 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals judge. 6 of them were appealed further to the SCOTUS.  2 of those decisions were reversed in full and a 3rd in part.  The average reversal rate is 75%, so Judge Sotomayor is ahead of the curve.
  • “She said that appellate judges make policy!” At a Dule Law School conference, Judge Sotomayor did say that,whether they want to or not, judges make policy where the law is not clear.  She was telling law students that the reason advocacy groups look for lawyers who have clerked with appeals court judges is because the appellate courts deal with broader issues of the law and, by their nature, make policy.  Is this controversial?  Maybe, but most would say that judges have made policy ever since in Marbury v. Madison the Supreme Court of the U.S. claimed the power of judicial review.  In fact, the two most conservative justices on the current SCOTUS, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito have made similar statements. Read them here.  Judge Sotomayor is clearly no judicial activist. Her most controversial ruling (about whether CT white firefighters were victims of reverse racism) actually shows an unwillingness to second guess CT’s legislators.  Nor is she some far left liberal.  A close examination of her record finds her to be VERY SIMILAR to Justice Souter whom she is replacing.
  • “Her name is too hard to pronounce!” This has been said by Mark Kirkorian!! Seriously, you want to go after Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s NAME??  (Similarly, Mike Huckabee (R-AR), the former AR Gov. turned Fox News host, called her “MARIA Sotomayor.” Right–because the only Puerto Ricans he knows are in West Side Story, right?)

C’mon, folks! Let’s quit this bozo stuff.  We should be asking REAL questions of Judge Sotomayor.  The following are a few:

  • On abortion (Yes, I brought it up):  Both pro-choice and pro-life groups seem to assume that Judge Sotomayor is pro-choice, but is this assumption justified?  She has only ruled on two abortion-related cases, but in both ruled in ways that pro-lifers should like better than pro-choicers.  In one case, she ruled that the Bush administration’s ban on federal money to international aid groups that fund abortions was constitutional, saying that the government had just as much right to favor pro-life positions as to favor pro-choice positions.  In the other case, she ruled against using racketeering laws to prevent anti-abortion groups from protesting outside abortion clinics.  Now, I think that both those rulings are reasonable, no matter what one’s view of abortion is.  But I think it would be fair for both pro-life and pro-choice folks to ask Judge Sotomayor to clarify her views.
  • On criminal law:  Judge Sotomayor has been a tough prosecutor and a tough trial judge. Her rulings as first a federal district judge and then a circuit appellate judge show a toughmindedness on crime.  In light of the way that the rights of defendants have been narrowed by the courts in recent decades, I’d like to know that Judge Sotomayor is strong on the rights of defendants.
  • On corporations versus individuals and the environment: Judge Sotomayor has been a litigator for international corporations working in the U.S.  Liberal columnist E.J. Dionne (in a column largely supportive of Sotomayor) thinks some of her rulings “will make Chambers of Commerce very happy.”  So, I’d like to know her views on labor law, on the liabilities of corporations, on corporate responsibility to communities and the environment, etc.
  • Church and state:  I want to know if Judge Sotomayor believes in the recent high court view that separation is not strict (no Lemon test) but must accomodate religion dominating the public square or (my view and the traditional Baptist one) must separation be strict?  On free exercise, does she support the older (better, in my view) that  the burden of proof must be on any law that would restrict religious free exercise? Or, does she go with the newfangled (bad) view that any law which is “facially neutral” to religion can still have the effect of restricting free exercise (usually of minority religions) and be legal?  Justice Souter was a great friend of religious liberty and church-state separation and I’d hope his successor will be at least as strong.
  • Executive power:  The Bush administration made far reaching claims of executive power that seemed to diminish the authority of the other two branches of government.  This has not fully snapped back into balance under Obama.  I’d hope Judge Sotomayor would want to restore our checks and balances between 3 separate and equal branches of government.
  • I want to ask whether judge Sotomayor believes indefinite detention without trial is legal.  What her view of “waterboarding” is and whether those who commit war crimes should be prosecuted–no matter what position they held in government.

There are many other real issues.  They’re quickly getting lost in these stupid attacks.

May 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Law & Theology Degrees

In our complex world where religion, philosophy, law, and public policy all often overlap, there is a need for ministerss with legal training and lawyers with training in religious studies or theology.  For instance, my friend, J. Brent Walker, the Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty, is both a lawyer and a minister. (I met Brent when we were both M.Div. students at the once great Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, pre-fundamentalist takeover.  Brent managed to earn both a B.A. and M.A. from the University of Florida (Gainesville) without having his brains turned to mush–something almost incomprehensible to a Florida State University (Tallahassee) alumnus like me. 🙂 Then he earned his law degree (J.D.) at Stetson University School of Law before earning his M.Div. at SBTS. )

So, at least here in the U.S., some institutions have begun to offer joint religion/law or theology/law degrees.  Here are a few of the better ones for those interested.  I have not ranked them in any particular order.

Wake Forest University has two programs involving joint degrees from the WFU Law School and WFU Divinity School.  One is a joint J.D./M.A. (Religious Studies) degree and the other is a joint J.D./M.Div. degree.

Emory University Law School has three joint degrees in its “Law and Religion” Program, all involving the juris doctor law degree.  Two of these joint degrees, the J.D./M.T.S. (Master of Theological Studies), and the J.D./M.Div. (Master of Divinity–the basic seminary degree for ordination in most denominations in the U.S., equivalent to the B.D. in Commonwealth nations), are run jointly with the Law School and Emory’s Candler School of Theology.  The third joint degree, the J.D./Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy in Religion) is conducted jointly with Emory University’s Graduate Division of Religion in its Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Duke University Law School offers a J.D./M.A. joint degree in numerous studies, including religion, through the Graduate School.  It also offers the J.D./Ph.D. in either philosophy or political science.

The University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law offers a joint J.D./Ph.D. program in Religion and Social Ethics that is VERY strong.

If anyone knows of other joint law and theology programs, please let me know.

Update:  From the comments:

Vanderbilt University Law School also offers both joint J.D/M.Div and J.D./M.T.S. degrees in conjunction with Vanderbilt University Divinity School.

A Master of Divinity and Law degree is jointly offered by Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and the University of Louisville’s Brandeis School of Law (named after the famed Supreme Court justice Louis B. Brandeis).

Baylor University offers a unique program through its J.M. Dawson Institute for Church-State Studies which I hesitated to include because they do not include a law degree, but the interdisciplinary degrees offered at both the M.A. and Ph.D. levels involve work with theologians, jurists and legal scholars, sociologists, historians, and political scientists.  It is truly unique.  (The Dawson Institute also  publishes the great Journal of Church and State which, long ago, published my first academic writing–an article on Bonhoeffer and Human Rights.  It has since published two  other of my articles and hasn’t seemed to suffer too much in circulation as a result. 🙂 ) Although named after the great Baptist J.M. Dawson, a very strict church-state separationist, the institute’s scholars include those of a more “accomadationist” outlook and publish and encourage debate between widely differing views of church-state relations (since it is an educational institution and not an advocacy group).  It includes the Center for Constitutional Studies and the Islam and Democracy Project and it works closely with Baylor’s Center for Jewish Studies (which used to be called the Center for Jewish and American  Studies).  (Yes, a Baptist university in deep Texas is the first explicitly Christian university in North America to have a Center for Jewish Studies–run by Jewish theologian Marc Ellis.  Ellis is not a Jewish Christian, but an orthodox Jew–but he is nevertheless controversial because in his strong push for Middle East peace he has been far more critical of the State of Israel than is common among Jewish theologians.  He has also said that some version of “Holocaust theology” have ended up justifying the occupation  and oppression of Jewish people.  Obviously, Baylor did not appoint Ellis in an attempt to stave off controversy!)

I have not listed them here, since I am mostly fascinated by the  intersection of religion/theology, law, and politics, but many law schools list other kinds of dual degrees, including dual degrees in law and business, law and social work, law and political science, law and public health, and law and medicine.  (The brains it would take to earn a joint J.D./M.D. degree floors me!)

May 28, 2009 Posted by | education, law, theological education, theology | 8 Comments