Chief Justice Roberts: A Catholic in the Making

I do not know John Roberts.  Never met the man.  I have been reading about him for years.  Could not avoid him, really.  Upon any vacancy or near-vacancy on the Supreme Court, Republican insiders incessantly pumped him as a rising jurist and, lo and behold, he now sits as Chief Justice.  I do not know Antonin Scalia either.  Observed him once at a reception.  Said to be an intellectual.  He seemed to be enjoying what he was eating and drinking.

Both men were raised Catholic, something I do know about, and it might shed light beyond Linda Greenhouse’s contribution in The New York Times and the notable, or not so notable, depending on your view, reporting of Jan Crawford of CBS about Roberts changing his vote at the last minute to uphold The Affordable Care Act. The reasons for his switch are as speculated upon as they are myriad in number.  But I wonder if Roberts’ vote was the result of the good Catholic gene winning over the bad Catholic gene that burdens all Catholics, including Scalia, who no one can doubt from his increasing vitriolic and bitter dissents has let his bad Catholic gene run amuck.


The good Catholic gene fires impulses within the brain that promote kindness, love, the human spirit.  It makes allowances for the frailties of humankind and seeks renewal instead of redress.  The bad Catholic gene is judgmental, insecure, sees wrong first and is barely forgiving.  It follows the letter of the law with little or no reason, often seeking vengeance disguised as justice.

If the Catholic gene is beginning to win the battle for Roberts’ soul, it might have future jurisprudential ramifications.  Had Roberts’ voted otherwise, he would have caused millions to lose access to health insurance – not in keeping with Christ’s commandment that charity should prevail above all else, including the laws of man.

I am not suggesting that Roberts is now firmly on the journey that took Republican-appointed jurists of past Courts like Earl Warren, William Brennan, Potter Stewart and Harry Blackmun to move increasingly away from their conservative origins.  But move they did.  Of these, only Brennan was Catholic.  As for other Catholics on the current Court, the battle between the good and bad genes in Anthony Kennedy is ongoing, swinging him left to right – not unlike most Catholics in real life.  The bad gene had silent control of Clarence Thomas, is seems, all along.  Samuel Alito repressed his good gene early on as well, though in Sonia Sotomayor, it seems to have done its work.

That conflicted Catholics serving on the Court end up as liberals is not surprising.  After all, the Constitution is more liberal than anything else. It is a progressive document. The Constitution clarifies and ennobles the status of the individual. The more one studies it – as members of the Court are forced to do – the more one has to accept that its core is an attack of the old traditions of the world the founders rejected.  That world was dominated by religions that all too often suffocated humanity with rules, regulations and restrictions instead of calling forth from humankind its better angels.  Perhaps Roberts is on the same learning curve as other, previous justices.

Time will tell.  The Court’s decisions next term – involving equitable redistricting, the principle of one-citizen, one-vote, affirmative action, the Defense of Marriage Act – could well depend on whether the good gene triumphs within Roberts’ being.

That same battle will prove critical for the country down the road as more HispanicLatinos end up in more decision-making roles.  So far, the battle is being lost on the country’s most recent high-visibility HispanicLatino, Marco Rubio, who like Roberts is being pumped by Republicans often and early for something special down the road.

But if the good gene wins Roberts over, that is good enough.


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