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Jesus and the Lawyer: Scalia Dead among his Wreckage

Scalia“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put Jesus to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’ The lawyer answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.’ But the lawyer, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ …” – Luke 10:25-37

God and Money

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” – Matthew 6:24

Scalia Dead

Network television stations cut to breaking news reports this weekend to tell us Antonin Scalia, the longest-serving member of the United States Supreme Court, was dead. Justice Scalia was 79, we were told, when he was found dead in bed with a pillow over his face at a luxurious hunting lodge (where he lay among “hand-stitched quilts, down comforters and authentic period antiques,” which the Cibolo Creek Ranch web site advertises, with rooms starting at $350 per night). What killed the judge, somewhere out there in the wilds of west Texas, was never made clear.

Reports said that Presidio County Judge Cinderela (as in the kid’s fairy tale) Guevara pronounced Judge Scalia dead without ever viewing the body. Cinderela Guevera elected not to perform an autopsy, though she did take pains to state that Mr. Scalia did not die of a heart attack, but of “natural causes.” The whole episode was most unusual for determining the death of anyone, especially someone entrusted by the entire country to require verifiable facts and sound reasoning before rendering any decision, any final judgment.

Final Judgment

Final judgment is, of course, the earthly province of Supreme Court justices – what they say goes for all, forever, at least on this earth – but in the case of Justice Scalia, there was nothing more important than final judgment in the celestial realm.

Rule of Law v. Rule of Love

Justice Scalia once famously said, “The Rule of Law is second only to the Rule of Love. The here and now is less important than the hereafter.”

Amen, my Catholic brother. Requiescant in pace. (A traditional Catholic, the judge preferred his masses performed in the old Latin.)

As Justice Scalia faces the come-to-Jesus meeting which we all will face some day (if we are good and lucky), his death presents us with a chance to take stock of some of the chief challenges of his life as a man of faith who adapted the role of a man of law.

Justice Scalia often quoted the Bible while hearing cases and writing opinions, so he would likely have appreciated the story of Jesus and the Lawyer (above).

The Jesus and the Lawyer story sheds light on the moral challenges of the legal mind facing the Christian one. The lawyer in the story indicates that he is ready to test the scope and breadth of Christ’s teachings, if only to gauge the rope line of the faith that tethers him. The story implies that the lawyer knows what is right, that every man, woman and child in this world is his neighbor and deserves, therefore, to be treated with love and respect, (according to Christ’s teachings); yet the lawyer disassembles, or tries to. He tries to deconstruct Christ’s clear and simple message for the potential purpose, it would seem, of escaping the onerous burden of it. This disassembling, of course, is exactly the sort of thing that gives lawyers a bad name (as everyone knows), and here is exactly where all the trouble starts, for Antonin Scalia and for everyone else trained to think like a lawyer.

Antonin Scalia was, of course, a lawyer as well as a judge, albeit a Christian one who, by his own declaration, considered the Rule of Love superior to the Rule of Law. It is awfully hard to argue with that reasoning even from a purely practical (non-parochial) standpoint, if you’re a believer. We move through these ghosts of our bodies in a relative eyeblink in the history of time, especially when compared with the ages we have yet to spend in the eternal hereafter

As Fox News likes to say, “We report. You decide.”

Matthew 7:1-2 tells us, “Do not judge lest you be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” — Matthew 7:1-2

This busy bible quote has been badly bruised by misuse over the years, as Sophists and scaliwags of every stripe have attempted to use it to argue that, “It’s wrong to judge anyone for anything,” which is an absurd abuse of the context. We all judge, all the time, in thousands of ways. We can’t help ourselves. It’s simple survival instinct. The context of the bible edict is that we will be judged as we judge. Justice will be meted out to us according to our own manner of judgment. That just sounds right, does it not? And fair, right?

This, of course, is akin to the golden rule, or what the Buddhists and other mystics call ‘karma.’ What goes around comes around; we will be judged and treated as we treat others. And here we wish to make an important religious distinction in the approach between practicing Catholics and most Protestants.

For Catholics, blind faith is not enough to reach the eternal reward. For Catholics, it is one’s works which truly matter, what one does. Catholics believe that good works in this life allow one a place in the Kingdom of Heaven. Saints are believed to reach beatitude through their good works. After their deaths, they are sometimes honored here on earth with sainthood, for having given the bounty of their lives for the good of others – people like St. Francis (the patron saint of animals), St. Bernadette, and Mother Teresa (whose miracles have recently been recognized by Pope Francis, and will lead to her being declared a saint this year), to name just a precious few.

Saints and Sinners

No one here is suggesting it possible or even remotely fair to judge a Catholic judge by the philanthropic standards of a Catholic saint. As most reasonable Christians can agree, it is not ours to judge anyone without our being judged in like manner, in turn. It is ours, however, to observe, to learn, to take instruction from what is happening around us. As for practical matters here on earth, we cannot help observing when the rulings of those entrusted to judge us, affect us. Few rulings in our lives have affected us all as much as Justice Scalia’s have, or most Supreme court justices’ rulings for that matter. There is no question but that Justice Scalia’s rulings have affected us and will continue to affect us all, profoundly. Therefore, it is only fair to reflect on his earthly methods and (Christian-values driven?) decisions with which we must live.

We choose to comment here only upon a few cases in which the God of Love, the Law of Love might observe Justice Scalia’s rulings in the here and now. We find several instances where Justice Scalia’s declared values – that the Rule of Law is second to the Rule of Love – fail to reflect his decisions.

We will discuss cases where it is clear that the greater majority of people end up worse off than they were before the ruling, cases where people were doubly injured by rulings which Justice Scalia found it somehow in his heart to make against them.

Citizen’s United

An astroturf group backed by corporate money argued before Justice Scalia’s court in 2010 that money was akin to speech, and therefore regulating campaign donations was akin to regulating speech, to curtailing a corporations’s First Amendment rights of free speech. Lawyers for those opposed – which easily included most of the thinking, reasoning world – argued that corporations are, first, NOT people, and second, that giving corporations carte blanche to invest all the (untraceable) money they want into campaign coffers would remove citizen’s place at the table. Those against unlimited donations argued that the money would be enormously disruptive and corruptive of the current system. Justice Scalia scoffed at the “alarmists” and sided with those arguing for the corporate purchase of politicians. The result, as everyone in the world not living in a bunker without internet or television reception knows, has been a massive dismantling of our political system. It gave us Occupy Wall Street movement as millions took to the streets, and it has given us Presidential frontrunners Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Both are arguably leading because they both point out that they are not beholden to corporations. Trump is funding his own campaign, and Sanders loves to point out that he gets a lot of small donations from actual people, and little if anything from corporations. Only Justice Scalia and four other members of the U.S. Supreme Court, apparently, didn’t understand the importance of money in politics, or worse, they did understand and didn’t care, or were only to happy to unleash it on us all. Justice Scalia was at the forefront of that decision. What would Jesus answer if the lawyer had asked him how he would have voted on (so-called) Citizen’s United?

Bush vs. Gore

People in Broward County and Miami-Dade County Florida sued their vote counters because they saw anomalies in the process that led them to believe their votes were not being counted properly. Florida became the state which, when called – erroneously, it turns out – for George W. Bush in 2000, put him just over the top in electoral votes and handed him the U.S. Presidency. Justice Scalia ruled that George W. Bush’s constitutional rights would be violated if the counties were to check their vote ballots for legitimacy. Later asked repeatedly by law school students how he came to rule as he did, Justice Scalia answered, “Get over it.” Several media news outlets put their resources together and later counted all the votes in Florida, and found that Gore would likely have won.

Had those two counties been recounted, factcheck.org says Bush would have still won, but had ALL the Florida counties been properly counted (as possibility for which Gore failed to ask), it is likely that Gore would have won. Either way, Justice Scalia was an instrumental part of a force of five judges that arbitrarily stepped on state’s rights. There was nothing “originalist” (a word which Mr. Scalia liked to use in describing himself) about this decision. It was pure judicial activism, something which all conservative judges and politicians profess to abhor. The decision to stop a state’s vote count was an activist one by any standard. Judge Scalia and his gang denied tax-paying citizens of the United States the right to have their votes counted.

Generic Drug Protections removed from Americans

For more than 100 years, Congress, as well as the federal judiciary, frowned on the idea of removing state tort claims against corporations which injured American citizens. Then about the time Justice Scalia was appointed to the bench, corporations got the bright idea to trot out arguments which claimed state tort laws interfered with federal ones. What was a poor corporation to do? When generic drug makers came hats in hand to Congress in 1984, they were asked by Orrin Hatch and Henry Waxman and others if they would be as responsible for their drugs as the brand name makers were, would they keep databases as well, communicate with FDA, be sure their drugs were as safe as the brands they copied? Oh yes, yes, they said, we will do all that and more. We will be just as responsible as the brand makers. Fast forward to Mensing v. Pliva (2011) and Bartlett v. Mutual Pharmaceutical (2013). The generic makers now argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that they were not responsible for their labels, that their hands were tied by federal guidelines, etc. Justice Kagan pointed out during the Mensing hearing that they could simply have stopped selling the dangerous drug Reglan (generic: metoclopramide), couldn’t they? Of course they could have, but that was not enough for Justice Scalia and his gang. He and his five threw out Mensing and erased 100 years of the high court’s presumption against preemption. The same injustices overturned Karen Bartlett’s earlier verdict for damages.

Those anti-citizen, anti-Law of Love decisions have since left millions, millions of Americans with zero protections for injuries caused by dubious generic drugs. Those decisions have also removed any incentive generic drug makers may have had to make their drugs safe. Many generic drugs are made in China and elsewhere, far away from prying FDA eyes. (We couldn’t trust China with our pet food; what makes you think we can trust them with our generic drugs?)

Rule of Law trumps Rule of Love

There was nothing remotely Christian about either decision in Mensing or Bartlett. In both cases, the activist Supreme Court led largely by Justice Scalia overturned lower court decisions so that the Rule of Law trumped the Rule of Love. The judicial gymnastics, Sophist reasoning and cherrypicked reading of case law used to justify these stomach-turning decisions, echoed the lawyer’s trying to find a way around Jesus’ clear edict to treat everyone as one’s neighbor. And for salt in the wounds left in the wreckage of Justice Scalia’s wide wake, his explanation for arbitrarily stopping a Presidential vote count, removing century-old protections for Americans, and aiding the corporate takeover of our entire political process, we are left only with his (and most definitely not “His”) Imperial edict: “Get over it.”

Jesus and the Lawyer: Scalia Dead among his Wreckage

While Justice Scalia may have found his eternal reward, the rest of us must continue to slog on down here among the wreckage of a legal system which the judge’s decisions on the bench have steered decidedly toward the rocks.

To be continued. . .

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