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Pundits argue about how much of a difference Catholic voters made in the outcome of the 2004 election.

But most agree that the outlook is better today in Congress and perhaps, eventually, in the Supreme Court for Catholic values regarding marriage, human life, and education.

"I think we dodged a major bullet with this election," Jimmy Akin of Catholic Answers and of JimmyAkin.org told IgnatiusInsight.com.

The voters’ rejection of staunchly pro-abortion Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry was critical, says Supreme Court historian James Hitchcock.

"I think if Kerry had won we could have said the culture wars are over," Hitchcock said Friday. Instead, observers are pinpointing "moral values" as the biggest factor in the election. Many believe a massive voter turnout of Evangelical Protestants and pro-life Catholics put President George W. Bush back in the White House.

IgnatiusInsight.com asked several prominent political activists, opinion-makers, and public leaders how they see Catholic beliefs and values faring during the second administration of President Bush, especially with a more Republican Senate and House.

These experts are divided about how influential "the Catholic vote" itself was, but all agree that Catholic beliefs, particularly regarding abortion and assisted suicide, have a better chance during the 2005-2007 Congress.

Some believe that as many as four new Supreme Court justices will be named in the next four years and that this situation could determine the shape of law for years to come. "Here we get an excellent chance if Bush is willing to fight for it," notes Hitchcock.

Princeton University Press just published the St. Louis University professor’s two-volume history of the Supreme Court, The Supreme Court and Religion in American Life: The Odyssey of the Religion Clauses (Vol. 1) and From "Higher Law" to "Sectarian Scruples" (Vol. 2).

Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, who spoke out before the election on the importance of life as a foundational principle in voters’ decisions, says Catholics cannot relax after this election.

"I hope it rapidly affects judicial appointments. Catholic Democrats now need to press their party to change its disastrous pro-abortion and anti-marriage policies," Chaput said Friday. "Catholic Republicans need to press the second Bush Administration to find a way out of Iraq and seriously attend to issues like education, immigration, support for the elderly and families, and help for the poor."

Louise Zwick, a founder of the Houston Catholic Worker House, told IgnatiusInsight.com that this election shows Catholics can affect an election. "However, abortion, while a very important life issue is not the only one, as John Paul II has pointed out. War and economics are also life issues," said Zwick, who with her husband Mark founded the House in 1980 to work with homeless immigrants, the poor and refugees. "The consistent life ethic endorsed by the Holy Father should be the challenge for us all."

The question for most is what this election will mean for the makeup of the Supreme Court. Akin is confident that Bush will appoint, as he has said, "strict constructionists" to judgeships. A strict constructionist does not see a right to abortion in the Constitution, Akin said, and thus the chance to overturn Roe v. Wade could increase.

The defeat of South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle, who as Senate Minority leader effectively blocked ten of Bush’s judicial nominees, was critical to changing the balance of power. So was increasing the Republican majority in the Senate from 51 to 55. This may diminish the clout of Republican pro-choice Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine), Lincoln Chaffee (R.I.), and Susan Collins (Maine).



Some observers said that depending on the makeup of the Senate Judiciary Committee, expected incoming chair and pro-choice Senator Arlen Specter may be out-voted if he opposes Bush nominees. It takes sixty votes to end a filibuster and the Wall Street Journal in July dubbed Daschle’s Senate "the dead zone" because of his effective use of the tactic to block judges and legislation.

"Under a Tom Daschle/John Kerry Washington, pro-life Catholics, Evangelicals, people of faith, would have a very hard time, particularly when nominated as judges," said Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online. "Obstructionist Daschle gone from the U.S. Senate is a huge victory for religious Americans." However, a November 5 ABC news story indicates that Democrats will continue with Daschle’s tactics.

"Everything stays the same, and the ball's in the president's court," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who was just overwhelmingly re-elected to another six-year term. "I don't see the Democrats backing down on this issue."

The U.S. Catholic bishops by policy have not made recommendations about nominations, said Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of prolife activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

"Certainly we feel very strongly that nominees that are prolife must not be discriminated against," Doerflinger said. "In terms of what we do about that, we’ve have to see how overtly that discrimination rears its ugly head."

But Culture of Life changes that can be enacted without an overhaul of the nation’s highest court have a much better chance now, Doerflinger said. "I am cautiously optimistic," he told IgnatiusInsight.

A conscience clause for hospitals and medical workers opposed to abortion may actually be enacted this fall as part of appropriations legislation, after failing to get any traction for years in a Senate held hostage by Daschle-led filibusters, Doerflinger said.

A law requiring Catholic hospitals to refer for and provide abortions was narrowly defeated by four votes recently in the California legislature. Such a law would effectively put Catholic hospitals out of business and is a top priority of pro-abortionists.

"They don’t recognize the existence of a valid conscience in anyone who disagrees with them," Doerflinger said. "It’s amazing that they continue to call themselves pro-choice."

With the changes brought by the election, the Church’s legislative agenda has a much better chance with this Senate—and it already was doing well in the House, Doerflinger noted. The legislative wish list also includes legislation to bar non-guardians from taking minors across state lines for abortions to avoid state parental notification laws, a federal ban on human cloning, restrictions on fetal tissue research, and a fetal pain bill.

The last would require abortion clinics to inform women of fetuses’ ability to feel pain after twenty weeks and would give women the option of providing anesthesia for their child before aborting him or her. A federal human cloning ban is the best hope of blocking California’s newly passed Proposition 71, which enshrines human cloning in the state’s constitution at an incredible cost to the state’s budget.

In addition, with the re-election of President Bush, the federal appeal of Oregon’s assisted suicide law can go forward. Doerflinger said that appeal would require federal law banning the use of controlled substances in assisted suicides to be applied.

The outlook is good for those who espouse Catholic values, Lopez said. "Republicans, it seems, registered new voters who have some greater purpose in voting, people who want to secure a culture of life and who see the value in protecting marriage—and that beats people who registered because Michael Moore gave them free microwaveable noodles any day in my book," Lopez said.

Akin agrees that more Catholics voted on principle: "I don’t want to see Catholics reflexively Republican either. I want to see them becoming principled rather than partisan."

And the final word from Archbishop Chaput: "Elected and appointed officials have amazingly short memories. If Catholics ease up their pressure on key issues, nothing will get done. So the real work lies ahead."


Read Part 1: "Did The 'Catholic Vote' Count?"



Valerie Schmalz is a writer for IgnatiusInsight.com.


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