When I posted something a couple of days ago about a column at U.S. News and World Report trotting out many of the classic anti-Catholic tropes of yesteryear, I expected it wouldn't be long before someone at U.S. News came out and said, we goofed--or else leaned on the columnist to issue at least a half-hearted apology.
To my surprise, U.S. News has decided to go all-in on reviving Know Nothingism of the 1850s. Here's what the editor, Brian Kelly, said on Friday:
Perceived bias on the court is a legitimate issue that U.S. News & World Report has covered for many years, from many perspectives. Our Opinion section has published pieces on the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive coverage from all sides of the debate and, just this week, included pieces from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Archdiocese of New York and Concerned Women for America. We are committed to publishing a diversity of views on a variety of topics. Jamie Stiehm's piece is within the bounds of fair commentary. We have run letters rebutting the piece and will continue to feature a diversity of opinions on this topic and others.
As I said Wednesday, U.S. News is free to publish whatever they wish, including bigotry. But why Mr. Kelly decided to defend this particular column fascinates me. It's not only anti-Catholic; it's not particularly a creative expression of it. And it's hobbled, further, but some laughable errors of fact.
Let's take a look.
Ms. Jamie Steihm, the author of this column, claims that "The Supreme Court is now best understood as the Extreme Court. One big reason why is that six out of nine Justices are Catholic." In other words, the Catholics--by voting together--are tilting the court to an "extreme." And all this is at the behest of "the meddlesome American Roman Catholic Archbishops" and "pernicious Rome" seeking "hegemony."
Wikipedia provides a listing of all the cases decided by the Supreme Court since John Roberts became Chief Justice. His appointment represented the fourth Catholic on the court, joining Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas (we'll skip over the fact that when Thomas was named, he was an Episcopalian, like President Bush who nominated him). And for those who want to keep track of these things, Justice Roberts replaced William Rehnquist, a Lutheran. Then, when Samuel Alito--the fifth Catholic!--was named to the Court in 2006, he replaced Sandra Day O'Connor, an Episcopalian.
So let's review the cases, shall we?
It would take too long to go through every case, so let's just look for cases involving abortion and contraception, shall we?
Scanning the 2005 cases, we find Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood. Oooh! Surely this will prove Ms. Steihm's thesis, no? After all, she said "More than WASPS, Methodists, Jews, Quakers or Baptists, Catholics often try to impose their beliefs on you, me, public discourse and institutions. Especially if "you" are female." And, sure enough, this involved an abortion restriction in New Hampshire.
Sure enough: the Catholics all voted in lockstep. Except the case was unanimous.
Here's another one: Scheidler v. National Organization of Women. This involved protests outside abortion mills. Dang! Another unanimous ruling! (Wait! Maybe that just proves the Catholics are even worse than Ms. Steihm said: they're so sneaky, they are seducing everyone into voting with them! Catholic Mind Control! Eek!)
No, this isn't working. So maybe we should try something different to demonstrate Ms. Steihm's claim. Instead, let's look for cases in which all the Catholics line up on one side, and all the non-Catholics--free to vote as they wish--line up the other way.
Aha! Found one: Central Virginia Community College v. Katz. All four Catholics dissented in lockstep--as if on orders from Rome! What did they object to? From Wikipedia:
Central Virginia Community College v. Katz, 546 U.S. 356 (2006), is a United States Supreme Court case holding that the Bankruptcy Clause of the Constitution abrogates state sovereign immunity. It is significant as the only case allowing Congress to use an Article I power to authorize individuals to sue states.
Here's another one: with that notorious Catholic Alito now on the Court, the fish-eaters have a majority! And in Garcetti v. Ceballos, they ganged up together...and ruled that a work memo is not protected speech under the First Amendment.
Obscure? Sure! But clearly Rome cares about them!
Later we find a similar pattern in Hudson v. Michigan--a case regarding an improper search and whether evidence so obtained can still be used; Rapanos v. United States, a wetland case; then we have Kansas v. Marsh--this is a death penalty case, and we all know the Catholic Church has a stance against that! Trouble is, on this one, all the Catholics voted to uphold Kansas' death penalty law.
Let's try 2006...
Ayers v. Belmontes. Another death penalty case. All the Catholics line up together. Against Church teaching. Lawrence v. Florida. A sentencing case. Schriro v. Landrigan. Another obscure procedural case; involving death penalty. Catholics vote against Church teaching again!*
Here's a juicy one: Ledbetter v. Goodyear. This actually got a fair amount of media coverage, as it concerned a woman suing over wage discrimination. The majority--all Catholics!--voted for a very narrow interpretation of the law, greatly limiting her damages. And of course, we all know the Catholic Church teaches dogmatically against the "paycheck accrual rule."
More tedious procedural cases. You can look them up if you wish. But here's one: Wisconsin v. Right to Life came back to the court for a substantive ruling. And now all the Catholics ganged up against the free-thinkers again! What did they do? They struck down limits on political advertising.
Then we have Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation. Here the Catholics ruled that the Freedom from Religion foundation did not have standing to sue over the White House Office of Faith Based Initiatives. "Vatican hegemony" strikes again!
In 2007, the most controversial case was Heller, greatly expanding the right to own guns. The others are more procedural cases, and yet more rulings letting the death penalty go forward.
In 2008, lots of cases where the Catholics ganged up! On matters of legal procedure, environmental protection, union rights, and so forth.
Now we come to 2009. This is when the last Protestant--John Paul Stevens--drops off the court, replaced by yet another Catholic! The notorious papist, Sonia Sotomayor, who incurred the wrath of our intrepid pursuer of popish plots, Ms. Steihm. Now just you wait and see what kind of pattern of Catholic collusion emerges!
And here they are! Between 2009 and 2012, five cases that will live in infamy: Conkright v. Frommert; Stolt-Nielsen v. Animal Feed International; Kawashimi v. Holder; Wetzel v. Lambert; and Taniguchi v. Kan Pacific Saipan. They may be obscure, but surely there is some Romish plot that knits them together?
Meanwhile, something else curious happens after Justice Sotomayor shows up. Instead of voting in lockstep with her fellow Catholics, she actually votes very frequently with the free-thinkers! Same thing in 2010, when Elana Kagan--another Jewish justice, thank goodness!--replaces Stevens. Same thing in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
In fact, you'll find another curious thing: Anthony Kennedy--another infamous papist!--strangely doesn't always seem to obey Rome's orders. Famously, in 1992, he resisted the blandishments of Rome's favorite enforcer on the court, Antonin Scalia, and upheld Roe v. Wade. Somehow, Scalia and Thomas convinced two other justices (both Protestants) to help them against Roe; and yet Kennedy double-crossed them!
He did the same thing when the issue was homosexuality; repeatedly, in fact: in Romer v. Evans, Lawrence v. Texas, U.S. v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry.
How can we explain this: that Kennedy and Sotomayor's votes don't line up with the other Catholics?
And then, to see Sotomayor vote so consistently with Breyer, Ginsberg and Kagan? I mean, they're all Jewish! Can there possibly be anything they have in common?
Can you guess an answer? Because Brian Kelly, editor of U.S. News, can't. Despite a near total lack of factual support--and an abundance of contradictory facts--he finds the claim of a Catholic conspiracy entirely plausible.
Now, what do we call a negative characterization of a particular group that both lacks actual factual support, and can be contradicted by another set of facts--yet is stubbornly clung to by the person making the statement?
That's called bigotry. And U.S. News and World Report is all-in on deeming bigotry to be "fair commentary."
* To be clear, I am not actually accusing these justices of anything nefarious when I say they voted against church teaching. All I mean to point out is that their vote--if it has any relationship to Church teaching at all, it's more against it than for.
Update (1/13/14): Apparently, the latest orders from "the rock of Rome" are for abortion laws to be upheld. This despite Ms. Steihm's confidence that "pernicious Rome" wants the Supreme Court to stop abortion. How else to explain the decision, today, by Catholic-controlled Supreme Court, not to review a lower court ruling striking down Arizona's law restricting abortions after 20 weeks?