The Bible and Supreme Court Justices

 There have been a lot of exciting and disturbing events in the news recently. But today what I want to talk about is the transition that’s happening on the Supreme Court of the United States. Ruth Bader Ginsberg a Supreme Court Justice recently died. President Trump has nominated a judge by the name of Amy Coney Barrett to take her place. The headlines are filled with the drama of this transition. Both parties are arguing about whether the confirmation process should happen before the election, before the inauguration or later into the spring of next year.

I’m not interested in those conversations right now. What we want to do with Truth  Currents is we want to frame a way to think about current events with a Biblical framework. And so, I want to talk to you at this propitious moment with this transition on our minds. I want to talk to you about what the Bible has to say about what we should look for in a judge. Our culture looks for certain policy positions and the writings of previous decisions. Those have value but the Bible is much more concerned with some basic integrity and character issues. And so, I want to share that with you and see if we can frame a way to think biblically about this process of confirming the President’s nomination, Amy Coney Barrett.

In Exodus 23 there is a section that talks about how to have honesty in the justice system. It particularly applies to judges. God speaks about judges all the way through the Bible and I’ll share some of those verses in just a minute. But I want to read this basic starting place. In Exodus 23:1-9 it says:

"You must not spread a false report. Do not join the wicked to be a malicious witness. You must not follow a crowd in wrongdoing. Do not testify in a lawsuit and go along with a crowd to pervert justice. Do not show favoritism to a poor person in his lawsuit. If you come across your enemy's stray ox or donkey, you must return it to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you lying helpless under its load, and you want to refrain from helping it, you must help with it. You must not deny justice to a poor person among you in his lawsuit. Stay far away from a false accusation. Do not kill the innocent and the just, because I will not justify the guilty. You must not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and corrupts the words of the righteous. You must not oppress a resident alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be a resident alien because you were resident aliens in the land of Egypt.”

Now let me see if I can take this 3,800-year-old passage and translate its relevance into the 21st Century.

In the second verse of this chapter we’re told, “You must not follow a crowd in wrongdoing.” That sounds like something your mother would say. “Don’t go along with people that are going to get you into trouble.” But in the context of speaking about a justice system and judges in particular, what it argues is that a judge is not supposed to follow the crowd. A judge is not to simply go with the majority. They are to pursue justice even if they find themselves standing alone against the crowd. In other words, one of the Biblical characteristics that we should look for in our next Supreme Court Justice, is we need somebody who has an independent morally grounded perspective that allows them to think for themselves about right and wrong. They should not be prone to peer pressure.

In verse 3 it says, “Do not show favoritism to a poor person in his lawsuit.” Now that’s a little shocking because the Bible usually says don’t show favoritism for a rich person. In fact, that’s what it says a couple of verses later. Verse 6, “You must not deny justice to a poor person among you in his lawsuit.” Within two verses the writer of Exodus tells us not to favor a poor person in a legal matter simply because we have compassion for his poverty. But then he turns around and immediately says not to favor the rich person as he oppresses the poor person. Now, are these verses contradictory? No. In fact, what they’re arguing for is that justice is an objective reality and it’s not based on my personal opinion about the people involved in the lawsuit.

In other words, one of the characteristics that the Bible tells us to look for in a judge is someone who is not prejudice toward the poor, but also, somebody that is not prejudice against the poor. Someone who sees a case based on its merits and judges the objectivity of justice.

In verse 8 we’re told, “You must not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and corrupts the words of the righteous.” It’s interesting, the worst sin in the Bible that can be attributed to a judge is that he or she is subject to partiality in their rulings based on favors, gifts or bribes that come to them. Now this was a huge problem in the ancient eastern world. It was very common for judges to rule in cases based on the gifts that they received from one party or the other. Often competing bribes would amount to an auction bidding for the judgment powers of the sitting judge. The Bible says that a judge must have an absolute sense of personal integrity.

In fact, it’s not just here in Exodus. Let me read you these other verses. In 1 Samuel 8:3 it tells us that Eli’s sons turned aside from their judgments after money. They “took bribes and perverted judgment.”

In Psalm 26:10, we’re told that in David’s time, men’s hands were “full of bribes.” Solomon complained that there were wicked men in his generation taking gifts “out of their bosoms to pervert the ways of judgment.” (Proverbs 17: 23) Isaiah in his book has a couple of things to say. In Isaiah 1:23 he said he was “weary of princes who loved gifts and follow after rewards.” In Isaiah 5:23 he said that there was judgment for those who “justify the wicked for reward and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him.”

In other words, a person’s position on political issues from a Biblical perspective takes a back seat to the character of the person who sits in judgment because justice is such a fragile objective to achieve.

It says in verse 9, that a judge is not “to oppress a resident alien.” In fact, the reason for that is because God reminds Israel that they themselves were resident aliens. In our context it would mean that a judge should not have an unhealthy and inherent bias or prejudice against a particular race of people, against a particular immigration status of people. Justice is an objective reality. A judge must seek that apart from these cultural baggages that often hinder their judgment.

With that Biblical model in mind, the question becomes, “How do we evaluate this woman who has been presented to us, Amy Coney Barrett?”

Well, let me share with you some things that I know about her. She is a devoted born again Catholic; a former Notre Dame law professor. She’s married to a successful lawyer. She the mother of seven children, five biological and two adopted children from Haiti. One of her children is a Special Needs child. She is very conservative and by all accounts deeply pro-life.

It’s interesting, former Senator Rick Santorum says that she will be a “super star.” And this is why. I like this evaluation. He said, “Faith is the center of her life. Her brilliance is matched by her humility. She is normal. Her family grounds her. And she doesn’t care what Washington D.C. thinks of her.”

Well, that sounds very familiar to the standards of personal integrity, strength against peer pressure and public opinion, independence of thinking, not following the majority. Those are the Biblical qualities we’re looking for and this sounds very close.

It’s interesting that three years ago in 2017 Amy Coney Barrett was approved by the Senate for a Federal judgeship. In that confirmation process, Diane Feinstein of California said this. She meant it as an insult. I take it as a compliment. She said, “Why is it that so many of us on this side,” meaning the Democrat side, “have this very uncomfortable feeling that dogma and law are two different things. And I think that whatever religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different.  I think in your case professor, when we read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern.”

The word dogma simply means theological conviction. What the Senator was complaining about was that as she looked at the history of the rulings and the writings of Amy Coney Barrett, what she found was an inextricable connection between her theological convictions, her worldview about the way God structured creation and the way she pursues justice. This was a problem for the Senator. She said law and theological convictions are two separate realms.

That’s what you would expect from a group of people who believe that you can hold any private idea you want to as long as you don’t bring it into the public square. This is played out every single day typically where people say, “Well, I’m against abortion personally. But I think it ought to be legal.” Why?

This is not preference. This is not opinion. This is right or wrong. If something is wrong, then it’s always wrong. It doesn’t matter what you think about it.

I have no respect for politicians who not only hold this philosophy in their own lives, but promote it to justices. This idea that it bothers me that you actually live out in the public square what you deeply believe in your soul. I don’t want somebody that functions one way in private and lives by a different standard in public.

If Amy Coney Barrett is a person in whom the dogma is loud, I find that a refreshing change from the waffling back and forth lack of conviction and leadership that we tend to have in this generation.

Two weeks ago, when this announcement was made of his nomination, Newsweek brutally attacked this woman for allegedly belonging to a cultish Catholic group that they said was the basis for Margaret Attwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaids Tale. They said, “She belongs to a group where women have to report to their spiritual superiors known as handmaids.” And that the group stresses that “men have authority over their wives.” They said in the article that Attwood indicated that this particular group “was the motivation for her to write the Handmaids Tale. A story set in a fictional land called Gilead, where women’s bodies are governed and treated as the property of the state under a Theocratic government.”

There’s just one problem, it wasn’t true. Not one part of it. Barrett has never been a part of such a group. And the next week, with much less fanfare, Newsweek issued a retraction.

Listen, I only know one thing about this confirmation process. What we’re about to see in the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett as a replacement of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, this is going to make the Brent Kavanaugh confirmation process look like a walk in the park.

Brace yourself and pray without ceasing. This battle is going to get very ugly very fast.
What can we do?  We can evaluate this candidate, not by the talking points of political parties. But we can evaluate her by the standards that God holds for justices. And we can then pray for the protection of her and her family.

By the standards expected in Exodus 23, it seems to me that she is a fine choice for the Supreme Court of the United States.

Do battle in prayer over this significant moment in American history.

This is TruthCurrents.