JACKSON, Tenn. – March 20, 2006 – Predictions that Roe v. Wade will be overturned as a result of President Bush’s two newest Supreme Court appointments are speculative at best, a legal scholar said March 16 at Union University.
“Presidents don’t always get what they bargain for out of their nominees to the Supreme Court,” said Robert George, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University.
George is a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics and formerly served as a presidential appointee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights. He was Judicial Fellow at the Supreme Court of the United States, where he received the Justice Tom C. Clark Award.
He is the author of “In Defense of Natural Law,” “Making Men Moral: Civil Liberties and Public Morality” and “The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion and Morality in Crisis.” He has published numerous scholarly articles and book reviews.
“By any standard, Robert P. George is recognized as one of America’s leading public intellectuals,” Union University President David S. Dockery said. “Both in his writing and his speaking he courageously and brilliantly makes the case for the place of traditional Judeo-Christian principles in Western culture. We are grateful for his presence at this year’s Union Forum and for his friendship to Union University.”
George spoke to a luncheon crowd of more than 300 as part of the annual Union Forum event. Prior to the luncheon, he addressed a group of students and led a discussion about such topics as natural law and the role Christians should play in politics.
“I especially his enjoyed his discussion with the students,” said Union senior Natalie Treece. “I thought it was interesting and relevant for 2006. He’s a very brilliant man.”
In his luncheon address, George looked at U.S. history to show that Supreme Court justices don’t always rule the way the presidents who appoint them expect.
For example, when he was faced with a vacancy on the Supreme Court, Dwight Eisenhower wanted a justice who was Roman Catholic and who was serving on a state Supreme Court. He hoped by appointing a Catholic he might make inroads with Catholic voters, who typically voted Democrat, George said.
Eisenhower decided on William Brennan, whose nomination the National Liberal League opposed because of his religious beliefs. Brennan, however, turned out to be a “liberal of the strictest observance,” George said.
Likewise, the conservative Ronald Reagan appointed the moderate Sandra Day O’Connor, who played a crucial role in preserving abortion and racial preferences. John F. Kennedy appointed Byron White, who proved to be a conservative.
George H.W. Bush preferred a “stealth candidate” with no record opponents could use to defeat the nomination. So Bush chose David Souter.
“Once on the court, however, Souter proved to be a liberal in the mode of Justice Brennan himself,” George said.
As for Roe v. Wade, George said it’s difficult to find people to make a robust argument for the case on constitutional grounds. He called it a “poorly-reasoned decision” and a “weak decision constitutionally.”
So in that sense, the decision is vulnerable. Abortion supporters realize that, George said, and so now they’re arguing that it’s precedent and settled law.
President Bush’s two newest appointments to the Supreme Court, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, both think that Roe v. Wade is a “constitutional travesty,” George said. He expects them to vote to overturn the case if they have a fifth vote. But right now, George said they don’t have that vote and that Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are the only other justices who will vote to overturn the case if given the opportunity.
Until a new justice provides that fifth vote, George expects the four justices in the minority to welcome cases that will slowly chip away at the structure of Roe v. Wade.
The next Union Forum luncheon will be April 6, when Time magazine columnist Margaret Carlson will be the keynote speaker.
Tickets for that event are $25 each or $125 for a table of six. Call (731) 661-5050 for tickets, or register online at www.uu.edu/events/unionforum/2006.