Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Great Question, Senator

Jonathan Turley, writing in the LA Times, recounts a meeting between Judge John Roberts and Senator Dick Durbin where Durbin posed a difficult question to the Supreme Court nominee:

Judge John G. Roberts Jr. has been called the stealth nominee for the Supreme Court - a nominee specifically selected because he has few public positions on controversial issues such as abortion. However, in a meeting last week, Roberts briefly lifted the carefully maintained curtain over his personal views. In so doing, he raised a question that could not only undermine the White House strategy for confirmation but could raise a question of his fitness to serve as the 109th Supreme Court justice.

The exchange occurred during one of Roberts' informal discussions with senators last week. According to two people who attended the meeting, Roberts was asked by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) what he would do if the law required a ruling that his church considers immoral. Roberts is a devout Catholic and is married to an ardent pro-life activist. The Catholic Church considers abortion to be a sin, and various church leaders have stated that government officials supporting abortion should be denied religious rites such as communion. (Pope Benedict XVI is often cited as holding this strict view of the merging of a person's faith and public duties).

Renowned for his unflappable style in oral argument, Roberts appeared nonplused and, according to sources in the meeting, answered after a long pause that he would probably have to recuse himself.

Too bad Roberts didn't think to respond by saying to Sen. Durbin, "That's a great question, senator. How did Justice Ginsburg answer it?"

Having chosen to answer it he might have said simply that the task of a Supreme Court justice is to interpret the constitution, not to pass judgment on its moral character. Should a question of capital punishment or abortion come before the court it is the justices' job to determine which side of the case conforms most closely to the original intent of the framers. Whether that intent conforms to the teaching of one's religion is irrelevant to the Court's task.

It is indeed telling that Durbin would ask this question. It reveals his tacit conviction that it is the role of the justice to create law rather than to interpret it. Were that really the case any conflict between the teaching of the church and the decisions of the court would be a much more acute problem. As it is the problem is more in Durbin's philosophy of jurisprudence than with judge Roberts' religious convictions.

UPDATE: The Washington Times reports that Sen. Durbin is denying that he ever asked the question, and Jonathan Turley is responding that Sen. Durbin was his original source:

Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, asked ... specifically what the judge, who is Catholic, would do if the law required him to do something that his church teaches as immoral, according to a column that appeared in yesterday's Los Angeles Times. But when the column drew criticism as a religious litmus test, Mr. Durbin's spokesman said the column was wrong, prompting writer Jonathan Turley to say that he learned of the exchange from Mr. Durbin.

We leave it to the reader to decide who, the politician or the journalist, is not telling the truth. Gosh, what a choice.

Straight Talk

Blunt words from the pen of one of the greatest men of the twentieth century:

How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men.

Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities - but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.

Sir Winston Churchill, after the horrific battle to wrest control of Sudan from the jihadis of the 19th century. From The River War, first edition, Vol. II, pages 248-50 (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1899).

Aside from his aside that Christianity struggled against the emergence of modern science, a claim which is historically dubious, is there anything in this passage which is not true?

Thanks to Little Green Footballs.

Modern Pedagogy

A retired teacher in England has a grand idea for promoting student success and protecting the fragile self-esteem of British children:

A retired primary school teacher has called for the word "failure" to be banned from the classroom and replaced with "deferred success". Liz Beattie, who taught for 37 years, said that children's aspirations to learn are crushed as soon as they are deemed failures and that they should be praised instead.

The motion to remove the word "fail" from the educational vocabulary will be put formally to members of the Professional Association of Teachers (PAT) at the union's annual conference in Buxton, Derbyshire, at the end of the month.

Critics said that it was just another example of "politically correct madness" creeping into the classroom, but Mrs Beattie, who lives in Ipswich and is the Suffolk Federation Secretary of the association, said that children responded better to encouragement than to being told they had passed or failed.

She said: "I think we all need to succeed at something. You need encouragement rather than being told you haven't done very well. Learning should be lifelong and it should be something that everybody knows they can do and knows they can have a bash at. I'd rather tell kids that they have done jolly well. You can then say, 'Tomorrow we should try that', rather than just saying, 'You have failed'."

The union of 35,000 teachers already recognises that pupils have "differing abilities and learn at differing rates and that all individual achievement should be recognised". Mrs Beattie, 68, insisted that the association should go further. She said: "I would be surprised if we didn't get the motion through because there are enough teachers at all levels who know that, with little ones, you've got to get them motivated and with the older ones you've got to give them confidence going into exams."

But the idea was denounced as "politically correct madness" by Suzanna Proud, 28, a mother of two. "When you apply for university they are hardly going to say, 'Well you have had some deferred success so we'll let you in'. They will say, 'Sorry, you failed your exams. You don't meet requirements'." If the motion to ban the word is accepted by the union, its ruling council will make it part of policy for its members in primary, secondary and nursery schools across the country.

Howard Martin, 54, who runs an online campaign against political correctness, said: "When children go through school they should learn how life works. Mollycoddling them will have completely the opposite effect."

Next thing some schools will be doing away with using red pens to grade papers since the color red causes stress in young psyches. Maybe grades should be done away with altogether since there are few feelings worse in a young student's life than knowing that if you don't do your homework your grade will suffer. Why do we want to inflict this trauma on our children?

Speaking of bad feelings and emotional trauma, here's a disturbing thought: John Kerry didn't fail to win the presidency in 2004, he merely experienced deferred success.

On a brighter note, none of the defeats we suffer in life should be seen as failures. No one ever really fails. In fact, some people's whole lives are just one deferred success after another.