Different people spew their breakfast drinks for different reasons. What gets to me, as a former headline writer, are those page-toppers that seem to say something so obvious that you want to pound your head on your bagel or anything else on the table at the moment. Here is a real doozy: "Roberts Hearings Likely to Enter Religious Territory."
No, we are not dealing with an analysis piece from weeks ago, back when this nomination first jumped from speculation into reality, before the stakes were raised by an empty chair in the middle of the high bench. This is the headline from a brand new Washington Post piece by reporter Shailagh Murray. I am sure GetReligion readers will be shocked, shocked to hear that activists on both the lifestyle right and left are pumped up about how the devout Catholic's faith may affect his legal views and, thus, fire up their troops. The story even opens with a pastor saying prayers of blessing in the U.S. Senate hearing rooms where the Judiciary Committee will meet. It seems that some religious conservatives are upset about the role judges play in American life. Had you heard that?
The Roberts nomination is the first since conservative Christians became a key Republican voting bloc and transformed their beliefs into a political movement.
Say what? That would come as a real shock to journalists who covered the Reagan era.
The story also indicates that Democrats are a little bit concerned about perceptions in some parts of the country that their party is a little bit hostile to highly traditional forms of religious belief. Thus, different Democrats want to handle this situation in different ways. Shocker!
Judiciary members who have expressed curiosity about Roberts's religious views include Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), a liberal and a Catholic, and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), one of the panel's most conservative members. Coburn queried Roberts privately about how his faith influences his work and ran into resistance. "He said, 'I'm very uncomfortable talking about that,'" Coburn told reporters, adding he intended to raise the issue again.
Others do not want to touch it, including Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), the committee's ranking Democrat, who also is a Catholic. "Just as we're supposed to be colorblind, we should be religious-blind," he said. Sen. John Cornyn, (R-Tex.), responded angrily to a report that Durbin had asked Roberts about potential religious conflicts of interest, "We have no religious test for public office . . . and I think anyone would find that sort of inquiry, if it were actually made, offensive."
And one more thing. Did you know that it is often hard to predict what Roman Catholics believe about constroverial moral issues and how those beliefs transfer over into their political lives? Like that Anthony M. Kennedy fellow? Really?
Kennedy's religion attracted notice when it was reported that he had told then-Sen. Jesse Helms privately that he understood the North Carolina Republican's opposition to abortion "because I am a practicing Catholic." Questioned about the statement during his confirmation hearing, Kennedy said he was not trying to signal how he would rule in abortion cases. "It would be highly improper for a judge to allow his or her own personal or religious views to enter into a decision respecting a constitutional matter," he testified.
In 1992, Kennedy co-wrote the court's opinion in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, which upheld a woman's right to an abortion but permitted certain state regulations.
You get the idea. You know what? I bet that religion may even play a role in the public debates about who replaces that crucial swing-voter on the high court, that world-class moderate named Sandra Day O'Connor. I have even read some stories that this may be linked to the issue of abortion on demand. You think?