Sonya Sotomayor is expected today to move one step closer to a lifetime appointment on the U.S. Supreme Court.
That President Obama’s nominee would be rubber-stamped by the Democrat-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee is unsurprising. What is surprising is that Sotomayor, a federal appeals court judge from New York, spent three days before the Committee without being asked a meaningful question about church and state issues.
Given the thorny religion-related constitutional issues the courts have been asked to decide in recent years – whether churches have to hire homosexuals, whether public funds can go to religious organizations for social service programs, whether the phrase “under God” should be deleted from the Pledge of Allegiance, ad infinitum – the American people deserved to know what to expect from Sotomayor.
I am not suggesting that the nominee, a Catholic, should have commented on specific cases, past or present, but that she should have been queried about her judicial philosophy with respect to the First Amendment’s so-called Establishment Clause.
Way back in 2006, Mr. Obama urged “serious debate about how to reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy.” He added that “a sense of proportion [should] guide those who police the boundaries of church and state.”
I’m certain that the nation’s religious community (as well as non-religious community) would have liked to hear Judge Sotomayor address President Obama’s statements.
How do we reconcile faith in our latter day democracy without repudiating the legacy of our nation’s founders? Like John Adams, who unequivocally stated that the “general principles upon which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity”?
And by what proportional guide should the nine members of the nation’s High Court – who sit beneath a display of the Ten Commandments as they hear constitutional cases – police the boundaries of church and state?
In a nation in which nearly 85 percent of the population belongs to one religious faith or another, it is absurd that a nominee for the Supreme Court could be confirmed without anyone having a sense of where she or he stand on constitutional issues related to religion.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has done the nation a supreme disservice.