Carol Platt Liebau: The Incoherent Mario Cuomo

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Incoherent Mario Cuomo

This piece in today's LA Times from Mario Cuomo gives new meaning to the phrase from Macbeth -- it truly is "full of sound and fury; signifying nothing." (Of course, this isn't the first example of Cuomo mouth-over-mind disease).

Titled "Put a little faith in Roberts," the subhead reads as follows: "Go ahead, ask him about his religious beliefs. As long as he puts the Constitution first, there should be no problem."

Mario Cuomo begins by arguing that "[C]onservative clerics and politicians" "demand that Catholic officials make political decisions reflecting their religious belief that abortion is tantamount to murder and work to overturn Roe vs. Wade and other laws that make abortion legal."

So from the outset, he misstates the facts. No conservative that I've ever known has ever presumed to demand that Catholics make political decisions in conformity with their religion. Conservatives have merely pointed out that many liberal Catholic politicians -- who make it a point to be seen prominently at Mass -- often decline to follow their own Church's teachings in their political dealings.

He then goes on to note:

Article VI of the Constitution states two things: first, that all officials — "judges as well as legislators" — must take an oath swearing that they will support the Constitution as "the supreme law of the land," their personal beliefs to the contrary notwithstanding. It also states that no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any public office.

Generally, the courts have interpreted this to mean that no one shall be required to profess or deny a religious belief in order to be deemed qualified for public office.

Finally, a little later, he adds:

No one is suggesting that being a Catholic or any kind of believer could by itself be a disqualification for a seat on the Supreme Court. . . . The question about Roberts' beliefs in effect asks whether he would impose his own personal test, religious or otherwise, on his reading of the Constitution: Would he say he might ignore his oath to support the Constitution if faced with an overriding personal belief?

So it seems that Mario Cuomo has adopted a stance that -- what?

(1) If the only question for Judge Roberts is whether he would impose any "personal test" (religious or otherwise) above the administration of the Constitution, there's no argument about that -- it's an entirely proper question. Of course, when a public official swears to "support the Constitution as 'the supreme law of the land,'" as Cuomo puts it, he implicitly pledges that there will be no "personal test." But whatever. If all Governor Cuomo's concerns can be addressed by the posing of a redundant question, by all means, let's do it!

(2) If, on the other hand, as the subhead reads (and in fairness, authors often don't title their own pieces), the issue is asking Judge Roberts about his religious beliefs, the question would be -- if the judge swears to uphold the Constitution -- what is the point? Surely the Senate isn't simply seeking to hold a seminar on the fine points of Catholic theology. Rather, the questions would be asked as part of the senators' efforts to discern Judge Roberts' fitness to sit on the Supreme Court. And if that's the case, by Governor Cuomo's own definition above, it would constitute an unconstitutional religious test -- that is, a situation where Judge Roberts' profession or denial of a particular religious belief would be used in determining his qualifications for the Supreme Court.

In short, Mario Cuomo is trying to create a dilemma where none exists. Of course, any nominee can be asked whether there is any consideration -- religious or otherwise -- that would prevent him from fulfilling his oath to uphold the Constitution. And of course no one can be quizzed on the substance of his/her religious beliefs, when the answer is going to play a part in the determination of whether they're qualified for a government job. So the end result of the Governor's pontifications is: You can require primary allegiance to the Constitution, you can't impose a religious test. Tres simple, non? So where's the "Hobson's choice" for Roberts that Cuomo gleefully posits?

A little research into the stance of another Catholic on the Supreme Court, Justice Scalia, would have saved valuable column space for the LA Times, tedium for its readers, and embarassment for Governor Cuomo. Justice Scalia noted that "the choice for the judge who believes [a legally unobjectionable law] to be immoral is resignation rather than simply ignoring duly enacted constitutional laws and sabotaging the [law at issue].”

Yes, tres simple.


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1:36 PM  
Anonymous Harvey said...

I disagree with your views 100%, but that's not the purpose of my comment. It is rather to mention what a hypocrite Cuomo is, because in the 80's he was a huge proponent for Scalia, simply because he was an ethnic Italian. In those days people cared what Mario said, so it really helped Scalia get through. What a dummy.

7:08 AM  

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