She Can Lower the New Year Ball in Times Square, But Can She Leave Her Catholicism Out of Her Supreme Court Decisions?

I was pleased when President Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor as an associate justice to the Supreme Court. There was no indication she might allow her Catholicism to play a role in her decision making as a member of the highest court in the land. Now, however, she has halted enforcement of an ACA ("Obamacare") provision requiring Catholic institutions to provide contraceptives as part of their healthcare plans. Within the same week, Sotomayor yanked the cord that brought down the crystal ball in Times Square signaling the beginning of 2014 and deprived women working for Catholic enterprises of a basic health necessity. Did Barack make a mistake in backing her for the Court? That judicial body was already heavily weighted by Catholics, including the dogmatic Antonin Scalia, who has never voted against a Vatican interest that I know of. Usually, he is joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Associate Justices Alito, Thomas, and Kennedy. Obviously, if they voted as a Roman Catholic bloc, they would constitute a majority of five. Some might regard this as not only troublesome but dangerous.

When our appellate courts decide cases involving children, schools, and First Amendment rights, they routinely say that juveniles "do not leave their Constitutional freedoms at the school house door." I am wondering if the five Catholics on the Court leave their Catholic dogma at the Supreme Court Building door. I am not so naive as to think that Sotomayor acted in this instance because she wants to be part of a ruling that the contraception provision in the ACA is unenforcable; she might want to examine it for other reasons, but the fact that she stepped in after a barage of briefs from the Catholic Bishops and other Vatican-inspired organizations seems ominous to say the least.

I was reminded in this instance of events that transpired in my home town. We've had a succession of lousy mayors, but the one occupying that office now takes the cake. Our mayors tend to sponsor laws and vote in favor of those sponsored by council members favoring real estate interests, sometimes at the expense of the citizenry. The voters just defeated a project that would have revamped the bayfront of Corpus Christi in a manner benefitting primarily wealthy land-owners holding onto hapless investments along the route, primarily vacant lots (property taxes on "undeveloped" land are much, much lower, so the owners tear down the old structures and sit on the lots awaiting a turnaround.) One of these owners is the scion of a super rich oil family who owns a Dallas-based chain of hotels. He claimed to have moved to Dallas for business reasons, but many saw it as spitting on his roots.

The former mayor was a one-term wonder whose business is real estate. He had to recuse himself in a vote on tearing down a crumbling public building across the street from a restaurant whose ground lease money is paid to...guess who? The mayor. The council is similarly under-the-table. One wanted to close a public beach for a developer planning a major resort on property adjacent to undeveloped land owned by...guess who? The council member. (He actually refused to recuse, and since the foxes watch the hen house -- voting against ethics ordinances that would remedy such matters, nothing was done about his self-dealing. Justice Scalia does not recuse himself even when he parties with corporate executives with business before the Supreme Court.) But the new mayor, a Latina with outrageously blown up silver hair -- one suspects she goes through a case of hair spray each week -- outdid them all in catering to special interests. Only, in her case, these included a religion. Her own.

Years prior to her run for the office of mayor, she served on the council during a session that saw, in the "public comment" segment of the proceedings, an obviously-rehearsed appearance by bussed-in young adults with an agenda. Their spokesperson, a veritable Barbee Doll teen, wanted to voice her dismey at a website for the local chapter of Planned Parenthood. She described, if only by innuendo, some "graphic photos" on the site that she felt "obscene...pornographic." I assumed she meant pictures illustrating the method of rolling a condom onto an erect phallus, which could only have upset her because her evangelical or conservative Catholic parents forbade her any sex education, which helps explain the rate of teen pregnancy here, once the highest in the United States. Such people are "abstinance only" advocates. With Nancy Reagan they just say "no." The teen wanted to request that the city council stop using block grant monies from Austin to pay for Planned Parenthood activities.

The council looked non-plussed. You could have heard an unsuppressed fart. But only for a moment. Glancing around her to see if anyone was with her, Councilwoman Nelda Martinez interrupted the (you should pardon the expression) pregnant pause. It was obvious that she knew the teen would be speaking and obvious, too, that if no one else on the council voiced concern about P.P. acitivities, she would. She looked as if she had swallowed a parakeet. And then she launched into a prepared speech designed to shame the other council members into voting to strangle Planned Parenthood.

When the grant came down from Austin, though, not only Martinez but the entire council had egg on their faces. There were other organizations on the grant list, groups having other educational, health, and social purposes, and the grant could not be sent down piecemeal. Either the city take the grant as written or they would get nothing. It was a triumph for those of us who are concerned about basic health care services for women without means. How ironic that Jesus supposedly said, "What you do for the least of these you do for me." And Jesus never said one word about birth control or abortion. The reason the RCC hates abortion is that it rids the church of new little Catholics.

In a letter to Martinez when she was running for mayor, I reminded her of her manipulation of the council when the Planned Parienthood vote came up and ended by saying I would be voting for her opponent (who I knew to be a friend of Planned Parenthood, or so she promised me on the phone). Unfortunately, the real estate and other interests threw their lot in with Big Hair, and she won the job. The first thing she did was to order the printing of some T-shirts with a motto designed to put an end to our habit of casually referring to our city as "Corpus." (Some wags upstate are wont to refer to it as "Corpussy," but that's another story.) The T-shirts, presumably paid for out of my taxes, read: "Corpus is Nothing Without Christi." When the local paper intervewed Ms. Martinez about the furor raised over the silly shirts, some readers complaining about tax money being spent on theological dogma, she said something about reimbursing the city for their cost. The matter was dropped and I have no way of knowing who ended up footing the bill for Nelda's nefarious extravagance.

However, the incident produced some insight into the Planned Parenthood episode when she was a council person. It was revealed that Mayor Martinez's brother is a Roman Catholic priest.

So I wonder, will Justice Sotomayor leave her Catholicism at the door to the Supreme Court Building?

(The photo shows Mayor Martinez wearing one of her T-shirts.)

Tags: Catholicism, Court, Sonia, Sotomayor, Supreme, contraceptives, rights, women's

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