What does it say when a Southern Baptist Republican senator leans toward endorsing Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor two days after the Southern Baptist Convention’s chief lobbyist opposes her confirmation?
Here’s what has happened: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of Corinth Baptist Church, said on Thursday morning, July 16, that as a judge her record “has not been radical by any means.” He said that she was “not an activist.”
He told her: “You have been very reassuring here today and throughout this hearing that you’re going to try to understand the difference between judging and whatever political feelings you have about groups or gender.”
Toward the end of his questions and comments, Graham said to Sotomayor, “You have, as a judge, been generally in the mainstream.”
Graham’s comments came two days after the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president wrote in a letter: “She is out of the mainstream of the American public.”
A long-time Republican Party sponsor and a Bush administration cheerleader, Richard Land wrote the letter to the judiciary committee chairman and ranking member. He accused Sotomayor of having an “ideologically rigid attitude toward race” and lacking “respect for private property rights.”
He said he was “deeply troubled” about her and that she did “not appear to share the pro-life values of nearly all Southern Baptists.”
A day earlier, Land charged that she had “a terribly flawed view of the judicial system” and that she “is the type of justice who instead of applying the law neutrally will redefine the law to conform to her policy preferences.”
The gap between conservative Graham’s warm comments to Sotomayor and the SBC’s cold letter of opposition suggests that Graham either doesn’t know about his denomination’s official position on the Supreme Court nominee or isn’t moved by its argument.
Either way, it does disclose the Religious Right’s loss of influence, but not loss of far-right ideological partisanship. For over a decade, the SBC has made the GOP synonymous with God’s Only Party. Now that the Republican Party appears to be moderating, the SBC has chosen to become even more political than the Republican Party.
If befuddlement is still possible in matters related to the Religious Right, one could be completely astonished that an organization with the name “Religious Liberty” didn’t raise in its letter to the Senate and statement the day before questions over where Sotomayor stands on religion in the First Amendment, an issue that concerns many people of faith.
The ERLC’s failure to do so is yet another measure that for many in the SBC scoring political points is more important than advancing religious freedom, which enables the church to be the church in the public square. Apparently, ideological politics is more important than broad moral reflection.
The ERLC is not alone among Religious Right organizations in its opposition to Sotomayor. In fact, many of their statements read like they came off the same printing press.
The Family Research Council, founded by James Dobson, began its attack on the day she was nominated, charging that her “compelling personal story is no substitute for allegiance to the Constitution and its sound application to public life.”
An FRC document said, “Unless her Senate confirmation hearings provide evidence to the contrary, we must conclude that Judge Sotomayor stands outside the historic mainstream of American legal thought.”
“Sonia Sotomayor has disqualified herself from the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Concerned Women for America in a letter to senators. “Through her work as a judge and in organizations, she has denied people equal opportunity to make a living because of the color of their skin, preborn babies their right to live, women the right not to be exploited by abortionists, and property owners the right of their own property.”
The Religious Right’s statements have yielded few results.
By Friday afternoon, three Republican senators had announced their decisions to support Sotomayor, including Indiana’s Richard Lugar, a Methodist; Florida’s Mel Martinez, a Roman Catholic; and Maine’s Olympia Snowe, a Greek Orthodox Christian.
In his endorsement statement, Lugar said, “Judge Sotomayor is clearly qualified to serve on the Supreme Court and she has demonstrated a judicial temperament during her week-long nomination hearing.”
Clearly, some Republican senators are being less partisan than the preachers on the right.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. A shorter version of this editorial appeared on Friday on the Washington Post’s “On Faith” Web page, where other Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith panelists offered their views.