Readers of Ryan Lizza’s “The Obama Memos” (The New Yorker, 1/30), know that President Obama is above all a pragmatist. That article analyzed a series of the president’s decisions and revealed that more often than not he chose what he perceived to be the most politically feasible path. In light of the president’s practical bent, it was not surprising that his administration reversed course and endorsed a “super PAC” to aid his re-election bid. It was nonetheless discouraging and possibly illegal.
The Supreme Court has ruled that independent expenditures on political campaigns must be “totally independent” and made “without any candidate’s approval (or wink or nod)” (Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Commission v. Federal Election Commission, 2001). It is very difficult to argue that Restore Our Future, the super PAC affiliated with Mitt Romney, or the president’s support group, Priorities USA Action, meet this stringent standard. In the case of the president’s group, the endorsement came by way of a conference call from the Obama campaign. And though President Obama will not appear at any events sponsored by the super PAC, staff from his administration will.
One way to combat the ill effects of recent Supreme Court decisions that allow big donors to spend unlimited funds to influence elections is to ensure that these expenditures are in fact independent. Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 has requested that Attorney General Eric Holder investigate the ties between super PACs and presidential campaigns. Of course, now that the Obama campaign has jumped on board the money train, his attorney general may be reluctant to dig too deep. The scenario leaves one yearning for a little less pragmatism and a little more idealism.The Case for Good Counsel
The recent increase in the number of deportations of immigrants is not due only to the tough policies of the Department of Homeland Security. Poor legal representation also plays a major role. When the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University asked immigration judges in New York State to rate the performance of lawyers they had observed in deportation cases from mid-2010 to mid-2011, the judges rated the performance “inadequate” in a third of the cases and “grossly inadequate” in another 14 percent. That is nearly half of all cases when combined. Worse, from 2005 to 2010 over a quarter of the immigrants had no legal representation at all, which markedly skewed their case results. Two-thirds of the immigrants with counsel had successful outcomes, compared with only 8 percent of those without a lawyer. In short, there would be many fewer deportations if all immigrants had competent legal representation.
Yet even basic legal information is withheld from detainees around the country. In 2010 more than half of the nation’s detention facilities offered the detainees no information about their legal rights, and more than three-fourths prohibited private phone calls with lawyers. To correct the information gap, Catholic Charities—in Florida, California, Louisiana and Georgia—is working with the Legal Orientation Program of the nonprofit Center on Immigration and Justice to inform immigrant detainees about their rights and about the court and the detention process. Governments, law schools and legal associations should champion the twin causes of competent legal counsel and information for immigrants.All You Holy Women
The recent consistory in Rome was a momentous occasion for the 22 men named cardinals, but the day also honored two American Catholic women. On Feb. 18 the College of Cardinals approved the canonization of Blessed Marianne Cope and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. Their canonization will take place in October, along with that of five other blesseds. Marianne Cope, O.S.F., served as a teacher and hospital administrator in central New York State, where she helped to establish two of the first hospitals in that area. But she is best known for her later work. During the last 30 years of her life, Sister Cope served alongside St. Damien deVeuster, SS.CC., at a leper colony in Hawaii, where she died in 1918 at the age of 80. While caring for people with leprosy, she made sure to attend not just to her patients’ physical needs but to their educational and spiritual needs as well.
Kateri Tekakwitha’s life was far shorter, but her service and virtue equally admirable. Kateri, born in 1656 in what is now upstate New York, is often called “Lily of the Mohawks” in honor of her mixed Mohawk and Algonquin heritage. Baptized by a Jesuit at the age of 20, she died only four years later. In her short lifetime she endured ridicule from her tribe for her Christian faith but maintained her practices of prayer, penance and care for the sick and aged. Scarred by smallpox as a young child, her intercession is often sought by individuals with skin diseases.
Both women are reminders of the simple ways Catholics today can be of service to others.