The Catholic Supreme Court’s War on Women

Et tu, Sonia Sotomayor?

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Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor participates in a question and answer forum at An Evening of Hispanic Cultural History and Success , Thursday, May 2, 2013, at Metro State University in Denver.

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.

In a stay order applying to an appeal by a Colorado nunnery, the Little Sisters of the Poor, Justice Sotomayor undermined the new Affordable Care Act's sensible policy on contraception. 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. They objected to filling out a one-page form. What could be easier than nuns claiming they don't believe in contraception?

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Catholic contraception controversy.]

Sotomayor's blow brings us to confront an uncomfortable reality. 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. This is not true of all Catholics – just look at House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. But right now, the climate is so cold when it comes to defending our settled legal ground that Sotomayor's stay is tantamount to selling out the sisterhood. And sisterhood is not as powerful as it used to be, ladies.

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.

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. Big city mayors know their penchant for control all too well. Their principal target for years on end has been squelching women and girls – even when they should have focused on their own men and boys.

[Check out 2013: The Year in Cartoons.]

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. President Clinton had it exactly right in his formulation: abortion should be safe, legal and rare.

Meanwhile, the forces arrayed against women's right to self-determination have been busy taking their campaign to the statehouses. In roughly half of them, women's human rights have been eroded. On the airwaves, the anti-woman conspiracy goes on, with Rush Limbaugh leading the pack of thousands of men. He uses the Obamacare contraception mandate to say, just about every workaday, that young women are just using the government to get sex, or some such thing. He wins the prize for virulently infecting the public dis-coarse.

With friends like Sonia, we don't need opponents like Rush.

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