Today’s federal court decision striking down the Pledge of Allegiance as a violation of the Establishment Clause opens a door for President Bush to approach a podium accompanied by 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Michael McConnell and say something like the following:
For the past few weeks we have seen Americans suffering mightily, and we have seen tens of millions of Americans responding to that suffering with tremendous generosity. Much of that generosity has flowed through the vast network of America’s churches and synagogues, and millions of helping hands will be there to rebuild not just this month or next, or even next year, but for as long as it takes. The compassion that animates the vast majority of these volunteers flows from their understanding of God’s love for them and the world. They want to express and share that love. From the time of our founding to the present, we are a religious people, deeply committed to the idea of “one nation under God.”
We are also an incredibly tolerant and welcoming people, and have always opened our country to people of all beliefs and none at all. We will continue to do so, and to count them our fellow citizens in full. A pluralistic society must work overtime to accomodate all faiths and those of no faith, but the answer to the questions of how to fashion that accomodation is not to expel God from our public life. That was clearly not the intent of the Framers, and for most of our history, the courts of America did not embrace such a severe rejection of our widespread belief in a creator God.
Lamentably, though, the courts of America, in struggling to match the words of the Establsihment Clause to the realities of a pluralistic society have stumbled down some very wrong roads, and the result was seen in the recent decision of a federal district court in the Ninth Circuit in striking down the Pledge of Allegiance as unconstitutional, a decision rejected by overwhelming majorities of Americans. The Constitution is not so complex a document that voters do not know its intent, and they know its intent was not to ban the sentiments expressed in the Pledge from recitation in our classrooms. Indeed, to ban the Pledge is to ban the Declaration of Independence, and presidential proclamations from 1789 forward to this day. It is an absurd result.
The Supreme Court must and does deal with a great number of crucial issues, but none can be seen as more important than resolving these longstanding issues within a coherent, practical and understandable framework of decisions.
Standing next to me is my nominee for the vacancy on the United States Sypreme Court, Judge Michael McConnell. Legal scholars know him already. The Senate knows him and confirmed him with an overwhelming vote. Like John Roberts, he has made many successful appearances before the United States Supreme Court to argue many cases. He is widely admired as a good, decent, thoughtful man of great integrity.
He is also widely regarded as one of the country’s leading experts on the religion clauses of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Though I do not know how Judge McConnell will rule on any particular case or controversy including the Pledge case, and would not ask him how he would rule, or expect him to answer how he would rule on a particular case, I do believe he would bring a unique and vitally needed perspective and learning to a Supreme Court struggling to make sense of its precedents and of the role of faith in our country’s past and its future.
Judge McConnell would bring wide learning and appropriate temperment to the Supreme Court, and I think he would also bring to the discussions with his colleagues the sort of insight and learning that they would find helpful as they worked collaboratively to chart a new path in this vitally important and symbolic era.
Judge McConnell is a judge’s judge, and a scholar’s scholar. As with my nomination of John Roberts, I weighed carefully the background and training as well as the reputation of many fine jurists and lawyers in reaching my decision on whom to nominate. I am confident I have made the right choice. I am confident that a fair hearing will lead to Judge McConnell’s rapid confirmation. I urge the Senate to move expeditiously to seat Judge McConnell before November is upon us.
Let the Senate Democrats filibuster the country’s leading expert on the religion clauses.