How should Christians look at the Supreme Court? That question has occupied pastors and theologians, to say nothing of the people in the pews, all the way back to the Court's 1857 Dred Scott decision. That decision sent an escaped slave back to his master, lighting a fuse among abolitionist preachers. Some Christians counseled obedience on biblical grounds. Others insisted that the time had come to go into politics. Many decided that the time had come to go to war.

Fast forward to our era. During the recent confirmation hearings for John Roberts, Sen. Arlen Specter pressed the nominee to describe the relationship between his faith and his judicial philosophy. Said Roberts, "There's nothing in my personal views based on faith or other sources that would prevent me from applying the precedents of the court faithfully under principles of stare decisis."

Roberts gave the right answer. Indeed, in a nation premised on the rule of law, he gave the only answer that propriety allows. But many activists on the Right, fervently hoping for new justices who will reverse some of the Court's work of the last 30 years, expressed concern about the carefully crafted tenor of his responses. As one of my colleagues at Yale Law School recently observed, conservatives who wanted a revolutionary have seen their President appoint a moderate instead. Certainly nobody will ever confuse the leanings of John Roberts with those of, say, Chief Justice Earl Warren. But anyone expecting a precedent-hunter modeled after, say, Justice Antonin Scalia will wind up sorely disappointed. Roberts does not appear to be a man on a mission. He appears to be a judge.

Christian activists, whatever their politics, should put aside dreams of creating a Supreme Court that ...

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Civil Reactions
Stephen Carter is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale University. He is the author of The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln (2012), The Violence of Peace, The Emperor of Ocean Park, and many other books. His column, "Civil Reactions," ran from 2001 until 2007.
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Christianity Today
Evolution, Not Revolution
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November 2005

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