Regard to Decorum

Much of what James F. Gill says in his article, Advice and Consent (10/31) concerning the proper role of the Senate in passing upon presidential appointments to the Supreme Court is incontestable; but his view that the Senate should confine its inquiry to questions of integrity, intelligence, experience and the like and pass over questions of ideology is not. The difficulty, of course, arises because the Supreme Court, rightly or wrongly, has taken control of a wide array of important and contentious social and political issues such as abortion, birth control, homosexual intercourse, differential treatment of gays and women, and voting rights. Moreover, given the potential sweep of the privacy rights that the court has discovered in the penumbra of the Bill of Rights, more may well be on the way, depending very much on the makeup of the court.

When the presidency and the Senate are in the hands of a single party, there is normally no problem barring a filibusterwhich has no support in the Constitution and which can be overridden when the majority sees fit to do so. But when control of the presidency and the Senate is divided, reflecting a like division among voters on important issues within reach of the court, then I suggest it is far from clear that the public interest is best served by leaving the president free to put control of the court in the hands of justices whom he is persuaded will reflect his views on such issues rather than the contrary views of the majority of the Senate.


Whatever the opinions expressed during the Constitutional Convention, the text of the Constitution does not support or even suggest such a narrow senatorial role, nor could the framers have anticipated the vast expansion of judicial power that has taken place since their time. And the effect of such unconfined presidential power is greatly amplified by the fact that the composition of the court may be essentially unchanged for decadeswitness the current court before Chief Justice Rehnquist’s deathirrespective of decisive intervening changes in the control of the elective branches.

It would be much less messy, to be sure, if senators would look only at a nominee’s qualifications of mind and experience; and surely they should not seek to learn how a nominee would vote on a particular issue likely to arise before the court. But I, for one, hope my senators would vote against a nominee who, for example, had authored a lower court opinion or an article endorsing the expansion of the right to privacy to gay marriage; and I would expect and support the right of senators of contrary view to embrace such a nominee.

In a sense, this contentious situation has been forced upon all of us by the Supreme Court itself by way of its Roe v. Wade decision. But that’s where we are, much as we might like a return to the good old days. Since each party now takes either a wide or narrow view of the senatorial role, depending on who’s in control, and since plainly neither is going to change, it seems to me we might as well relax and confine ourselves to insisting that the Senators act with a decent regard to decorum. That’s challenge enough, it seems to me.

William H. Dempsey
Arlington, Va.


I am noticing a change in the material treated in America. I have been very disappointed in the coverage, or lack of it, regarding the pedophilia exposure in Philadelphia (Signs of the Times, 10/10; Letters, 10/31). Our people are so angry, so hurt and disillusioned and we need to have this attended to in print by Catholic magazines. Good analysis is needed.

I do understand that the editors of America are in a delicate position, but I call on you to be as courageous as possible in editorials and articles regarding this horrible event in our church.

Mary Lou Bishoff, S.H.C.J.
Philadelphia, Pa.

Nonviolent Action

Thanks for the article on an expanded just war theory, Postwar Justice, by Mark J. Allman, (10/17) that includes historical thicknessthat is, decades of preceding context plus moral responsibility for future clean-up, reconstruction, return of booty and abstinence from gifts that keep on giving, such as depleted uranium weapons and land mines.

But Mr. Allman’s acceptance of regime change, apparently by war, as part of just war disturbs me. I am also uncomfortable with Mr. Allman’s view that all Americans should pay to restore Iraq. I remember widespread efforts to say no to the war. We were given a hard sell, using time-tested business methods: repeated advertising about the need for the war, exaggerations, emotional hype, distortions of reality and fear. Therefore, it seems more just to require payment from the large businesses that are profiting so greatly from the war rather than from ordinary taxpayers. More just, if sadly unrealisticbarring our own large-scale, nonviolent action.

Elsa Sabath
Lubbock, Tex.

Almost Indescribable

How I enjoyed the article Wait ’til Next Year, by James N. Gelson, S.J. (10/31). My father and I became interested in the Dodgers in the late 1940’s, around the time of Jackie Robinson’s arrival. Each year had its joys and disappointments. I still feel the pain as I walked home from school, as a fifth grader, in 1951, to hear my mother tell me those awful words: The Dodgers lost. Bobby Thompson of the Giants hit a three-run homer off Ralph Branca to defeat the Dodgers for the pennant. But four years later, as Father Gelson so captivatingly writes, the Dodgers finally came through over the Yankees, and the pain of earlier defeats turned to joy and almost indescribable happiness in their 1955 World Series championship.

F. R. Lalor
Iowa City, Iowa

Transformative Power

Many thanks to John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., for his Ethics Notebook column, Books and Persons (10/24). It was an inspiring, evocative reminder of the transformative impact that the persons we encounter in life and in books can have upon us.

His reflections on reconnecting with people who had strongly influenced his past life as a result of reading recent books by or about them were deeply insightful and wonderfully revealing of our graced interconnectedness with others across the years and even beyond death.

Having read the most recent book of Jon Sobrino, S.J., Where Is God? Earthquake, Terrorism, Barbarity, and Hope, I felt drawn into Father Kavanaugh’s memories of Father Sobrino in an earlier time as well as his appreciation of Father Sobrino’s timely challenge in his latest work to reflect honestly on the deeply troubling tragedies of our time and to open ourselves to be both consoled as well as converted.

The other persons and books reflected on by Father Kavanaugh were equally soul-stirring. His moving testimony to the transformative power of the written word is an important reminder that we are indeed surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses on every side as we keep running steadily in the race we have started.

Peggy McDonald, I.H.M.
Immaculata, Pa.

In the Center

Dodging Traffic, by Mary Maloney Haggerty, (11/7) does a good job of showing us what is happening to many committed Catholics who find themselves at odds with the extreme stances of some of their fellow parishioners. Our pastor, in his wisdom, spoke to the problem in our parish bulletin last spring. He urged us to respect one another for the opinions we hold.

I would add an emphasis on keeping our balance. This concept is a key to taking the middle-of-the-road position. To be in the center helps us keep a sensible perspective. We can see how counterproductive being militant is. With the grace of God, we can then respond effectively to Christ’s invitation and participate, hopefully, in a unifying process.

Jeanne B. Dillon
Summit, N.J.

Worthy Aspirations

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, as discussed by David Hollenbach, S.J., in Human Rights in Catholic Thought (10/31), raises some interesting questions. How can rights exist independently of any capacity to fulfill them? What is a just wage where too few employment opportunities exist, or for those ill-equipped or disinclined to embrace work opportunities? What does it mean to speak of housing as a right among nomadic peoples or primitive peoples? Is the right to housing the same for Nigerians as for Oregonians? What is the source of a social security right in Cameroon?

It seems that the rights posited are really morally worthy aspirations, attainable by societies made wealthy by embracing the opportunities and civilities identified with modernity. Out of economic growth and effective governance (not necessarily democratic) come the means and the civic enlightenment to legislate safety nets for the deserving and even for the less deserving. Within such an environment, embracing traditional liberal values and the rule of law, labor is likely to be valued, and collective bargaining legal.

The church is better advised to urge the principle of free trade and market economics while speaking to the responsibility of all employers, and also to those in government to recognize their responsibility to prosecute corruption, facilitate development and establish the rule of law at all levels.

The concept of rights is being overused. Rights should be universally applicable, not predicated upon affordability or resource availability.

Robert Swegle
Bellevue, Wash.

Diverse Cast

In her review of The Catholic Passion, Anne Carr faults David Scott for all the book’s strengths (11/7). Yes, the book draws together the witness of a cross-section of saints and sinners: artists, composers, novelists, hierarchs. But that shouldn’t make the book difficult...to classify. The book is a celebration; and, in my family at least, celebrations gather a diverse cast of characters. In one of the most remarkable books written in the last quarter-century, David Scott has conveyed a vivid sense of the immediacy of the communion of saints. He does not ignore the ambiguities of church history, as the reviewer accuses him of doing; but neither does he belabor them. There is a time for that, but not at a celebration. I’m sorry the reviewer missed the invitation; it was for a party, not a protest.

Mike Aquilina
Bridgeville, Pa.

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