By Reverends Paul and Rob Schenck
In the wake of the Supreme Court decision on government-mandated health insurance, it may seem strange for two career-long pro-life activists like ourselves to praise Chief Justice John Roberts, but that’s precisely what we intend to do. Many of our colleagues and friends are busy criticizing the Chief Justice, labeling him a traitor, suggesting he’s mentally unstable, even calling for his church to excommunicate him. Our ministry work around the High Court during all the years John Roberts has been there gives us a different assessment of what happened on June 28, when the Court issued its majority opinion (authored by Chief Justice Roberts and read by him from the bench) upholding President Obama’s signature legislation. Both of us were at the oral arguments, one at the reading of the decision.
We have been with Chief Justice Roberts on many occasions, including social settings. We have always chatted with him about pastoral concerns including our own prayers–and those of many others–for him and for his family. Among the many experiences we have had with the Chief Justice, one of us (an evangelical minister) watched his deep emotion from up close when he was a pallbearer for his mentor and predecessor, the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist. The other of us (a Catholic priest) once visited the Chief’s family parish church and learned how people there perceived him. Our concern for Chief Justice Roberts has always been a pastoral one, and that’s what leads us to a different conclusion on his role in the National Federation of Independent Business, et al v. Sebelius case.
We see John Roberts in this instance not from the perspective of legal analysts, but as shepherds of souls. We believe he is a deeply principled man. While an imperfect human being (as we all are, according to Jesus Christ), it appears Chief Justice Roberts held to his core beliefs, an admirable thing.
While neither of us is happy with the concrete outcome of this case, we do not believe it was the Chief’s intent to endorse something in which he does not believe. Instead, he attempted a Solomonic solution to a very thorny issue that, at least in his mind, could not produce a completely satisfactory result. He acted not for political or ideological reasons, but out of the courage of his convictions–risking the ire of friend and foe.
Of course, those who know the law better than we two laymen may insist there was a better way. As for our pastoral opinion, though, we think the Chief Justice did the best he could, according to the light of his own conscience. For that, John Roberts deserves praise.
Paul and Rob Schenck are twin brothers and co-founders of the National Pro-Life Center and Faith and Action in the Nation’s Capital, both located across the street from the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. Rev. Paul Schenck is a Roman Catholic priest and Rev. Rob Schenck is an evangelical Protestant minister.