The Dispatch: More from CWR...

Fencing with bigots

…being an imaginary dialogue between a nominee to a Federal appeals court and members of the Committee on the Judiciary of what once imagined itself “the world’s greatest deliberative body”…


Senator Proudie: I note, Professor Valiant, that Catholic dogma plays a considerable role in your judicial thinking. That bothers me, frankly, because it would seem to threaten rights many people have worked long and hard to protect. Perhaps you could relieve my anxieties?

Professor Valiant: “Catholic dogma” plays no role whatsoever in my theory of judging, Senator. It’s the job of the legislative branch, in either the states or the national government, to enact laws within the bounds set by the Constitution. It’s the job of a federal judge to determine those bounds and to give statutes their proper meaning. This approach to judging has nothing to do with “Catholic dogma.”

Senator Proudie: Do you believe that Roe v. Wade was rightly decided?

Professor Valiant: As a lower-court judge, Senator, I would apply all governing Supreme Court precedents in cases that come before me. Beyond stipulating that, I do not think it appropriate for a nominee to the federal bench to comment on issues on which I might have to rule.

But if you were to ask me a more general question, Senator, as to whether I think that the Supreme Court can get it wrong on occasion, I would say “yes.” I think the Supreme Court got it wrong in 1857 in Dred Scott v. Sandford, when it held that an African-American whose ancestors had been brought to the U.S. as slaves could not be a citizen and thus had no legal standing. I think the Supreme Court got it wrong again in 1896, when the Plessy v. Ferguson decision upheld segregated public facilities in the states. Would you agree that the Supreme Court got it wrong in Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson, Senator?

Senator Proudie: [Incoherent muttering.]

Senator Gantry: Professor Valiant, I went to Catholic schools for years; loved those dear, sweet sisters, just loved ‘em. So I think I know what it means to be a good Catholic. Do you think you’re a good Catholic, Professor?

Professor Valiant: Senator, the state of my soul is surely a matter between me and my pastor, and between me and God. As I understand it, this committee room is a place for public inquiry by the Judiciary Committee into my qualifications for the federal bench. It is neither a confessional nor a rectory parlor for spiritual direction.

But I do remember, Senator, that, in the course of my own education in Catholic schools, we were required to read the Constitution of the United States; perhaps you were, too?  And there I find, in Article VI, the unambiguous statement that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any office or public Trust under the United States.” So if you will permit me, Senator, I regard your question as not merely impertinent but unconstitutional, and so I decline to answer it.

Senator Gantry: [Splutters.] Well, I certainly didn’t mean to apply some sort of “religious test” to your qualifications for the federal bench, Professor….

Professor Valiant: Thank you for clarifying that, Senator. As an expression of my gratitude let me suggest that, out of respect for the Constitution, we just drop the subject. So I won’t inquire into precisely what you did intend.

Senator Gantry: [Inaudible; something to do with “…da Bears.”]

Senator Defarge: Professor, could you tell us what you think of Senator John F. Kennedy’s speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association during the 1960s presidential campaign?

Professor Valiant: It’s not altogether clear to me, Senator, what my views of that speech have to do with my qualifications for the position to which I have been nominated. But I will say this. John F. Kennedy faced deep-set, anti-Catholic bigotry in his run for the presidency. Harvard professor Arthur Schlesinger, Sr., who can hardly be accused of special pleading, once called anti-Catholicism the most entrenched prejudice in American history. So whatever I think of the way in which then-Senator Kennedy handled the bigots of his day, perhaps we could all agree that such bigotry has no place in the 21st-century United States?

Senator Defarge: [Unintelligible expletive deleted].

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About George Weigel 478 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021), and To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II (Basic Books, 2022).


  1. Very good, but ended too soon. Especially needed was the committee inquisitors’ follow-up questions on how some of them were “Catholics in standing” and yet their “conscience” brought them to different conclusions on infallible dogma of the Church.


    I mean, surely, you don’t blindly follow the Church, do you? Look how our progressive thinking and evolved court decisions have brought “reproductive freedom” to women everywhere. I see the Church has not evolved in her doctrine and am afraid that you, locked in your dogma and despite reassurances to the contrary , would render you unfit as a jurist.

    I mean how can you possibly assure us absolutely that when you leave your home in the morning, your Catholic dogma stays behind where it belongs?

    What say thee…

  2. Outstanding piece of work. I just got ‘Lessons in Hope’ yesterday, and I look forward with great relish to reading it.

    It still amazes (befuddles?) me that Mr. Weigel and Mrs. Pelosi, nee D’Alessandro, grew up in the same city in the same time period.

    In Ballamer in those long passed days we called the Pope “Johnny Unite Us”.

  3. This should be required reading to all potential (and actual) ‘Catholic’ office-holders, people like Timothy Kaine, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, John Kerry, et. al.

    I have a very intelligent non-Catholic friend much smarter than I and in my occasional efforts to convert him one of my selling points is the intellectual firepower we wield today – Weigel, Chaput, Sarah – and have had through the last 2,000 years.

    I sent him this piece

  4. When shadow boxing as with your feigned fencing opponents your opposition is your imagination. When you step into the ring you’re apt to get knocked out with the unexpected. Reality. America’s judicial political system demands impartiality and rightfully exclusion of religious belief. The mistake of Catholicism in Am is its failure to argue the vital issues from the perspective of reason. All those issues Catholicism opposes abortion, euthanasia, homosexual marital rights have as their repudiation bedrock rational premises inherent in the meaning of Justice and political intercourse. Aquinas differentiated the Moral Law from Human [Civil] Law, but did not place them in opposition. He would have argued the case for morality in Civil Law from reason based on universal rights belonging to Man. Alasdair MacIntyre touches on this in After Virtue.

    • “The mistake of Catholicism in America is its failure to argue the vital issues from the perspective of reason.”

      Good point, and may I suggest that those who (both Catholic and non-Catholic) are most adept at attacking Catholicism are (at least) smart enough to know NOT to engage its most intelligent defenders, such as Mr. Weigel, Archbishop Chaput, Fr. Cutler, the late Fr. Niehaus, St. PJP II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI et. al. – The list goes on and on, for centuries. At the DNC convention in Denver in 2008 Nancy Pelosi made the mistake of engaging Archbishop Chaput, and although it did not last long it was funny for however long it lasted.

      My DREAM conversation would be between Joe Biden and George Weigel – THAT would be funny.

  5. “The mistake of Catholicism in Am is its failure to argue the vital issues from the perspective of reason.”
    Gosh. I think that the bishops present our opposition to the death penalty, abortion and euthanasia as being reasonable and consistent in the defense of valuing all human life from conception to natural death without invoking scripture chapter and verse. I’m not sure i understand your point.

    • What I mean Teo is presenting reason in Congress by congressmen, are by Jurists before the bench. Most who support Life simply state legislation against it is wrong because persons have rights. They generally don’t address how we come to know those rights from a natural law perspective, and how those rights are common to all men, and provide historical accounts when those rights were acknowledged as is found in the Common Law [the Common Law of England is the juridical standard for most States]. Doing so might not have won their point but would have presented a more persuasive argument for those rights. Antonin Scalia among the very few did offer argument from that perspective.

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