As Catholic lawyers who have filed dozens of civil rights cases, including some under the Voting Rights Act in Texas, we were disappointed in Of Many Things, by Matt Malone, S.J. (2/25), especially given Justice Antonin Scalia’s comments two days later in the Shelby County, Ala., case. During oral argument, Justice Scalia presumed, without evidence, that the 98-to-0 vote to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act in the Senate should be construed not as strong support for the continued need for the V.R.A., but to mean that no Senator would vote against the “perpetuation of a racial entitlement.”
After Americans gave their lives to achieve racial equity in voting, the V.R.A. was undeniably passed to stop generations-long officially sanctioned racial discrimination. As such, Justice Scalia’s “racial entitlement” comment can only be construed as derisive, racially charged and based on skewed logic.
In the debate between “original meaning” and “living Constitution” constitutional analyses, Father Malone injudiciously argues, “If Mr. Scalia really wanted to impose his own views, the more subjective ‘living Constitution’ method would be the way to go.” However, given Justice Scalia’s recent comments from the bench, it appears more accurate to assert that “original meaning” is merely a too-clever term meant to conceal the insertion of Justice Scalia’s personal beliefs.
Should Justice Scalia rule that Section 5 of the V.R.A. is unconstitutional, he will have clearly tipped his hand as a judicial activist—regardless of the title of his method of analysis.
Interpreting the Text
I was somewhat surprised to see Father Malone’s defense of Justice Scalia’s “original meaning” interpretation of the Constitution. I am no legal authority, but it seems to me that hermeneutics plays a larger role than Father Malone gives it credit for.
We have only the words of the Constitution to go on, and thus interpretation is necessarily involved in our attempt to understand it. A central tenet of hermeneutics holds that one’s Sitz im Leben inevitably affects one’s interpretation. We can’t know how the Constitution would have been understood by its original readers any more than we can know how Shakespeare or the parables of Jesus were received by their original listeners. But we can attempt to understand it.
Father Malone could have followed the familiar appeal to Scripture and Tradition, the twin bulwarks of church teaching. Scripture says X, Tradition says Y, and both form part of the “teaching” of the church. The courts’ role is to interpret the law (Scripture); and their interpretations, in turn, become part of the law (tradition). Both, then, inform the code by which a democratic society chooses to govern its activities. But like tradition, the history of interpretation, the “code,” can change as the people who read (and thus interpret) the texts in their own life situation inevitably change over time.
San Antonio, Tex.
New Ethical Focus
Congratulations to Kevin Clarke on an excellent and timely article, “Job Insecurity” (2/18), about the serious difficulties faced by low-paid workers at Walmart and similar companies. Capitalism in the United States has become more and more defined by huge profits for the lucky few and by all kinds of rationalizations by people—like Walmart’s Kory Lundberg—about why it is O.K. for the men and women doing the grunt work to be paid salaries that keep them living below the poverty level.
Various studies show that the middle class in America is gradually collapsing. Just 6.6 percent of workers in private industry are protected by a union, and the era of charismatic union leaders like Cesar Chavez and Mike Quill seem over. Companies put shareholder concerns and executive remuneration ahead of the mass of unrepresented employees, many of whom subsist on wages of less than $10 an hour.
Church members, especially priests and those further up the ecclesiastical ladder, should provide ethical leadership in this vital area of social justice. Here is a modest proposal to the hierarchy: Leave all sexual prescriptions aside for one year and concentrate on the serious moral imperative of an employee’s right to be paid a just and living wage. Put “Humanae Vitae” on the shelf and open up “Mater et Magistra”!
Meaning of ‘Theory’
Re “Getting to Work,” by Patricia Ranft (2/18): I was taken aback by the know-nothingist reference to Darwinian evolution as “just a theory.” The apparently willful refusal to acknowledge that the word “theory,” when used in a scientific context, means something very different (a major conceptual summary) from what it means in ordinary speech (questionably supported speculation) seemed to me to be a gratuitous slap at a topic (Darwinian evolution) that did not bear on the thesis of Professor Ranft’s article.
Does she also disrespect the theory of electromagnetism or the theory of relativity? Does she somehow fail to join the rest of us in living her physical life in conformity with Newton’s (superseded) theories of time, space, matter and gravity, as all the rest of us, who live in a human-scale regime, perforce do? Her lumping-in of evolution with Marxism and Freudianism was a major detraction from her otherwise excellent article.
If you begin to publish regularly articles with such a patent yet pointless anti-intellectual bias, I suggest that you start prefixing them with a warning label.
Waters Landing, Md.
Need All Three
Re “The Noble Enterprise,” by Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl (2/4): The apparent thrust of Cardinal Wuerl’s work is to portray the magisterium as the exclusive work of the episcopacy. The conflict between the episcopal function guaranteeing the validity of doctrine derived and the work of theologians to strengthen the confession of faith strikes me as a conflict regarding power, not authority.
In reality, the argument lacks an essential element: the faith thrives and grows only in the lived experience of the people of God, in which both the episcopacy and theologians share. The church would be better served were we to understand the magisterium as a three-legged stool. The third leg, most often overlooked in the hubris of the other two legs, is the lived faith of the people of God as they listen to the living word and practice its living tradition. Believers act under the influence of the Spirit for the transformation of the world through the events and efforts of their daily lives. This is called the sensus fidelium.
Were Cardinal Wuerl’s article focused on establishing an effective dialogue among the three legs, it would have opened a productive channel for the new evangelization. As it stands, it is reminiscent of a feudal culture, in which the lord of the castle stands on the wall hurling epithets and anathemas at barbarians invading his domain.