"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Best! People

Is this the legal counsel a church should be relying on?

I understand the concept of a lawyer having a pig for a client.  Even the most heinous criminal deserves legal representation; even Donald Trump is entitled to counsel when trying to figure out how to best handle the latest incident of a woman not his wife whom he slept with and who might say embarrassing things if money doesn't cross palms with some kind of agreement about what it's buying.  I don't impugn the immorality of the client to the lawyer, just because of who the client is.

But what about when it's a question of the lawyer the client employs?  Brown v. Board of Education is as much a moral decision as it is a legal one.  It's not the kind of legal decision Neal Gorsuch would   sign onto if only because he can clearly divorce any human feeling at all from a legal analysis that concludes a truck driver should freeze to death rather than disobey a command from his employer (even military troops don't have to obey illegal commands or commands meant only to march them over the top into the enfilade), and he has no real concept of morality, at least as a judge.  As Charlie Pierce put it, Brown is a decision that:

...  materially fulfilled the basic promises of the Constitution for a good chunk of the country’s citizens. It redeemed the moral failures of Reconstruction. It fulfilled the sacrifices made during the Civil War. It helped make the Civil Rights Movement possible.
And it's perfectly sound law, as well.  I know lawyers who still debate the "penumbral rights" which form part of the legal argument of Roe v. Wade.  I don't know of any lawyer who disagrees with the legal reasoning of Brown v. Board, a decision Warren kept in discussion until he got all 9 justices to sign off on a unanimous decision.  A decision still praised today because it is as much about who we are (or who we should be) as it is about how our government(s) should treat everyone in school.

Then comes Louise Vitter:

"I don't mean to be coy," Vitter, who is up for a seat on the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, said at her confirmation hearing, "but I think I can get into a difficult, difficult area when I start commenting on Supreme Court decisions -- which are correctly decided and which I may disagree with."

From a purely legal standpoint, this is rather like saying Marbury v. Madison should be revisited and reconsidered, if only she could.  But the issue here is not a bizarre answer to a question that should have been a puffball (I presume, however, there is something in writing that would have challenged a more direct denial of any problem with the Brown decision), the issue is:  Ms. Vitter is general counsel for the Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans.

And what does it say when a client employs a lawyer of such obviously limited moral perspective?

Brown is a moral decision as much as a legal one.  To consider Brown a "difficult area" and imply it was incorrectly decided is to raise serious questions about one's moral temperament (the same questions raised against Justice Gorsuch and which should have scuttled his appointment to the bench).  The question here is not:  should the Senate reject Vitter (I think the answer is obvious), but: why does the Archdiocese of New Orleans employ a lawyer with such moral myopia?  If you are known by the company you keep, what do we know about the Archdiocese of New Orleans, that they keep company with Louise Vitter?

I don't raise this question to engage in some free and easy church bashing, or even latent anti-Papist sentiment.  But I'm really wondering:  can you keep this person as your general counsel after this statement?  I think a corporation would be running from her as fast as they could, if only to avoid the taint.  What, then, about a church, from whom we expect a bit more moral perspicacity and posture than a corporation whose primary concern is bad PR?


Blogger The Thought Criminal said...

Richard McBrien pointed out that John Paul II and Benedict XVI appointed some of the worst bishops and elevated some of the worst Cardinals in modern history. It was under such that Louise Vitter was hired. She is a disgrace to the profession and to the Catholic Church.

2:06 PM  

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