US News: Catholics have taken over the Supreme Court, or something

It’s difficult to pick a place to start with Jamie Stiehm’s anti-Catholic diatribe yesterday that US News’ editors somehow decided to publish as part of their opinion section. It’s such a target-rich environment that it challenges the restrictions of fair use and copyright law, but so ludicrously entertaining that it rises to must-read level. Stiehm uses the issuance of a very temporary stay by Justice Sonia Sotomayor in the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor to argue that Catholics have seized control of the Supreme Court — and really should be excluded from any position of power at all:

Et tu, Justice Sonia Sotomayor? Really, we can’t trust you on women’s health and human rights? The lady from the Bronx just dropped the ball on American women and girls as surely as she did the sparkling ball at midnight on New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Or maybe she’s just a good Catholic girl.

The Supreme Court is now best understood as the Extreme Court. One big reason why is that six out of nine Justices are Catholic. Let’s be forthright about that. (The other three are Jewish.) Sotomayor, appointed by President Obama, is a Catholic who put her religion ahead of her jurisprudence. What a surprise, but that is no small thing.

Let’s test that hypothesis. How many key decisions have been made by the Supreme Court on a 6-3, Catholic/Jewish basis? After all, if Catholicism is the deciding factor in American jurisprudence, then that’s the kind of split we’d most often see, no? Either that or nothing but 9-0 decisions, since Catholics and Jews share a common basis for faith, philosophy, and moral law.

And what has Stiehm so steamed? Not an actual decision by Sotomayor, or even an opinion. Sotomayor issued a temporary stay in enforcing the HHS contraception mandate on Catholic nuns, who would otherwise have to facilitate birth-control insurance coverage or face ruinous fines. Apparently, even an interruption in this mandate rises to the level of gender treason and theocracy. Temporary injunctions in cases of this kind are hardly earth-shaking, nor do they mean much for the eventual disposition of the case — or even the injunction itself. Gabriel Malor e-mailed me this reminder:

Sotomayor is still considering the Little Sisters’ stay request. She put a temporary hold on the requirement that they complete the accommodation form and then asked for briefing from both parties. So, she could either refer the issue to the full Court or issue her own decision on the stay request. That could happen at any time. That’s not a decision on the merits, just a decision on whether the accommodation form requirement should be stayed pending appeal at the circuit court level.

Stiehm doesn’t allow facts and law to stop her rant, however. She declares, in laughable fashion, that theocracy is imposing religious rule while the mandate itself — which forces people to provide free birth control whether they want to do so or not — is somehow benign:

More than WASPS, Methodists, Jews, Quakers or Baptists, Catholics often try to impose their beliefs on you, me, public discourse and institutions. Especially if “you” are female.

Like the nuns? Stiehm writes this without a hint of irony:

She blocked the most simple of rules – lenient rules – that required the Little Sisters to affirm their religious beliefs against making contraception available to its members.

Does Stiehm know that nuns are celibate and therefore don’t require birth control, free or otherwise? And that they clearly don’t want birth-control coverage? A mandate that requires nuns to sign a waiver that facilitates coverage of birth control is farcical on its face. Talk about imposing beliefs. The nuns (and other plaintiffs against the mandate with stronger cases) aren’t attempting to prevent employers from providing birth control; they’re trying to stop the government from forcing them to distribute and pay for it, directly or indirectly.

Stiehm leaps from there to argue that Catholics should be excluded from public life, or at the very least discouraged, implying that Catholics aren’t loyal Americans:

Catholics in high places of power have the most trouble, I’ve noticed, practicing the separation of church and state. The pugnacious Catholic Justice, Antonin Scalia, is the most aggressive offender on the Court, but not the only one. Of course, we can’t know for sure what Sotomayor was thinking, but it seems she has joined the ranks of the five Republican Catholic men on the John Roberts Court in showing a clear religious bias when it comes to women’s rights and liberties. We can no longer be silent about this. Thomas Jefferson, the principal champion of the separation between state and church, was thinking particularly of pernicious Rome in his writings. He deeply distrusted the narrowness of Vatican hegemony.

And who is at the vanguard of Vatican hegemony in the US? Stiehm can’t even be bothered to educate herself on that point:

The seemingly innocent Little Sisters likely were likely not acting alone in their trouble-making. Their big brothers, the meddlesome American Roman Catholic Archbishops are bound to be involved. They seek and wield tremendous power and influence in the political sphere.

I’m pretty sure that Stiehm can’t tell the difference between a bishop and an archbishop, but let’s put that aside for the moment. What, exactly, is the “American Roman Catholic Archbishops”? As an organization, it doesn’t exist. There is the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which represents all of the Catholic dioceses in the US. And in answer to the question, the difference between a bishop and an archbishop is that the latter heads an archdiocese; Minneapolis-St. Paul is an archdiocese with an archbishop (and auxiliary bishops), while Duluth, New Ulm, Winona, St. Cloud, and Crookston are dioceses with bishops. Both have authority over their local “church.” Both are represented in the USCCB. Its current treasurer is the Bishop of Dallas, for example.

With that level of ignorance, Stiehm manages to stumble to her ultimate point — that Sotomayor is apparently part of a grand conspiracy to reverse Roe:

In one stroke with ominous implications, there’s no such thing as Catholic justice or mercy for women on the Supreme Court, not even from a woman. The rock of Rome refuses to budge on women’s reproductive rights and the Supreme Court is getting good and ready to strike down Roe v. Wade, which became the law of the land 40 years ago.

Well, it did … “in one stroke” from the Supreme Court. I’m not aware of a Roe-level challenge on the Supreme Court’s docket, either, although those Catholics might use anything to overturn it, even though they’ve passed numerous times on doing so. And I won’t be holding my breath for Sotomayor to vote to overturn it even when the opportunity does appear.

Anyway, be sure to read the whole thing. Not only is it a great return to Know-Nothingism on several levels, it’s also a pretty good indicator of the level of editorial judgment at US News. On that point, let’s give the floor to one of the commenters on the piece: “The author could have saved space by simply writing, “Who has two thumbs, knows nothing about preliminary injunctions, and is too lazy to do the research necessary not to look like a complete idiot?””

Update: Like I said, there’s too much nonsense in Stiehm’s bigotry to categorically address all of it, but commenter Radjah Shelduck points out something that I did miss, and deserves more attention:

Yes, TJ, like a lot of the Framers, did “think of pernicious Rome” in his writings, but that was the Roman Empire they warned of, not the much later Vatican Rome. This author doesn’t seem to know the difference between the Rome of Christ’s time and that which came centuries later. Anyway, when Jefferson developed his ideas of separation of church and state he was far more troubled by the Anglican Church imposing its will in Virginia–not by the Catholics, who were a tiny minority there.

Update: More from my friend Deacon Greg Kandra at Patheos:

Rather than taking issue with one justice’s opinion, or attempting to dissect the legal thinking behind it, Stiehm takes the bigot’s way out: it’s because she’s Catholic, dammit, and you know how those Catholics are.

I find Jamie Stiehm’s essay objectionable and offensive—as a Catholic, but also as a journalist. It comes perilously close to hate speech, and betrays an attitude toward Catholicism that harkens back to the crude cartoons of Thomas Nast and the anti-Catholic nativism of the 19th century.

Stiehm should be ashamed.  So should U.S. News & World Report.


Update: Be sure to also read Michael Potemra and Michael Sean Winters.

Update: The Anchoress provides a thorough fisking as well.

Update: Thanks to Instapundit for linking this.

Update: More from my friend Father Z. The Catholic League is calling for the Creators Syndicate to terminate Stiehm, but I’m a little tired of the fire-’em demand. I’m more curious as to why anyone would have run this particular column, and US News should be made to answer that.

Update: Jeff Dunetz: “is she now claiming that Rush Limbaugh is a Catholic woman?”