The Blog

The Catholic Test, Part 2

Big media has been avoiding the new Democratic religion test, but the blogosphere has answered the bell.

12:00 AM, Aug 7, 2003 • By HUGH HEWITT
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CHARLES CHAPUT, the Archbishop of Denver, issued a stinging rebuke to Catholic senator Richard Durbin and concluded that "a new kind of religious discrimination is very welcome at the Capitol, even among elected officials who claim to be Catholic," and the national news media barely took note. A single Washington Times story cited Chaput's column on the William Pryor nomination, and the sole mention in the Washington Post was contained in a letter to the editor from C. Boyden Gray, who is leading an effort to break the Democratic filibuster of the Catholic Pryor.

The blogosphere did better. Discussions of Chaput's charge broke out at Powerline, The Brothers Judd, The Inn at the End of the World, and InfiniteMonkeys, among others. But the big blogs stayed away from the Chaput statement and from the Pryor controversy generally, touching on them--if at all--in a glancing fashion. Joshua Micah Marshall was the most disingenuous of all, refusing to reference Chaput's statement in either his blog or his column in the Hill, even after we had specifically discussed it on air and off. Instead of attempting to respond to Chaput in an intellectually honest fashion, Marshall quotes me without naming me, describing me as a "fulminating right-wing commentator." Marshall's bad form is the best indicator yet that the hard-left senses that anti-Catholic bigotry is a disastrous tactic.

Some interesting commentary followed publication of The Catholic Test in THE DAILY STANDARD on Tuesday. was dismissive of the argument that a new anti-Catholic test had emerged from the Democratic strategy on Pryor, and LegalTheoryBlog spent considerable energy analyzing the proposition. Previously SouthernAppeal had joined the fray, and with luck, more serious blogs will follow.

The resurrection of anti-Catholic bigotry in the form of a bar to professing Catholics joining the federal appellate bench is a watershed moment. Democratic Senators and their cheerleaders like Joshua Micah Marshall are eager to dismiss scrutiny of their appalling tactics with invective, but it is impossible to dismiss Bishop Chaput or constitutional history. The Senate Democrats have erected a test that will keep faithful Catholics off the federal bench as surely as the demand that Catholics in Restoration England renounce the doctrine of transubstantiation kept them from service in government. The Senate's radicals--Patrick Leahy, Richard Durbin, and Tom Dashle--have led their caucus to demand that Catholic nominees at least keep silent on their acceptance of Church teaching on abortion.

Critics of the charge of anti-Catholic bias come in two categories: Those who argue that the criticism is too small and those who argue it is too large. Fred Barnes, for example, has argued that the bias of the Democrats is against people of all religious backgrounds who oppose abortion, and thus to confine the argument to anti-Catholicism is to overlook the broader fight. Defenders of the new test simply assert that it is a simple, completely nonreligious, and appropriate test that excludes all anti-abortion nominees, regardless of their faith, from the bench.

Professor Jonathan Adler of Case Western Reserve Law School walks a middle ground. "Is this Catholic bigotry?" he asked. "Not by traditional definitions. There is no anti-Catholic animus as such. There is, however, a clear disparate impact on Catholics (among others) and this impact is foreseeable. The policy is anti-Catholic in effect, if not in intent. Under the definition of discrimination advanced by the left--and championed by Senator Kennedy and other Democrats in the debate over the 1991 Civil Rights Act--this is actionable discrimination."