Judges Gone Wild (at the Red Mass). Why is this different from Justices Going to Europe?

October 4th, 2009

Today is the Washington, D.C.’s Red Mass. Washington lawyers, including several Supreme Court Justices. There is a bit of controversy, over whether this creates a tension in the separation of church and state (still looking for the separation clause in the Constitution).

“I don’t think there is any doubt that people in that congregation, including the Supreme Court justices, are going to listen to what is said. They might hear something phrased in a way you might never hear it in the court, but it might become a lingering factor in their decisions. … People who are concerned about the Red Mass worry about this kind of undue influence, an influence that no other group, religious or otherwise, has on those nine men and women.”

Over at Volokh, Jonathan Adler writes:

It seems to me that Lynn’s concerns are misplaced.  If Supreme Court justices cannot attend an annual mass, or any other event at which powerful worldviews are advanced, without compromising the integrity or independence  of our judicial system, we have much bigger problems than this one service.  We expect justices to be able to make legal decisions based on the law in front of them, setting aside their personal moral views and any desire they may have for approval by outside groups.  And even if the occasional Red Mass sermon prosletyzes on a current controversy, I think the justices can handle it.  No matter what is said about abortion, school prayer, or any other issue on which the church has a strong position, I doubt it will have much influence on the decisions of Justice Breyer or any the other justices who attend.

It amazes me the things the left gets upset about. If we are to presume that the Justices are so fickle, that a single sermon or Mass will impact their views on huge Constitutional issues, how does that reflect the Left’s faith in the role of the Judge? Actually, this fear is telling.

Justice Kennedy, for example, takes annual trips to Salzburg, Austria. Jeffrey Toobin in The Nine has written how this exposure to European ideals has changed his views of the Constitution and the Rule of Law. If the Left seeks to criticize the Justices from going to a single mass, perhaps the Right should admonish Kennedy from going to Europe to have his views modified?

Why is going to Church any different from studying law in Austria? They both have the power to persuade, and change a Judge’s mind. Perhaps this just reflects the Left’s negative feelings towards organized religion, but their embrace of European legal values.