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October 10, 2005

Miers, religion, and criminal justice issues

As the buzz over the Miers' nomination continues to rage in the media and the blogosphere, the debate remains fascinating across many dimensions. And yet, as was the case during CJ Roberts' confirmation hearings, no attention is being given to criminal justice issues (even though these issues comprise nearly half of the Supreme Court's docket). Despite Miers' service on the board of Exodus Ministries, a spiritual organization devoted to assisting prisoner re-entry, and her vocal advocacy for better funding of criminal defense, none of the historical exegeses or political punditry or doctrinal speculation in the media or the blogosphere has explored how a Justice Miers might impact a Supreme Court divided on a number of important criminal justice issues.

An issue getting a lot of attention is religion and the significance of Miers' status as an evangelical (see this Washington Posteffective review). Of course, the religion conversation in other fora quickly moves to a discussion of what Miers' faith might mean for cases involving abortion or homosexuality.  But in this forum, I have to spend a little time ruminating about what religion and faith can mean for views on criminal justice issues.

Consider first, as but one dimension of this issue, that Chuck Colson was one of the participants in the "buck up, conservatives" conference call about Miers last week.  Colson's chief work these days is with Prison Fellowship, and this bio calls him "one of the nation's influential voices for criminal justice reform."  And recall that, back in March, Colson wrote a powerful op-ed in which he called America's approach to criminal justice "a flawed policy" and advocated alternatives to imprisonment for non-violent offenders.

Another variation on this theme concerns the death penalty, which occupies a huge place on the Supreme Court's docket.  My understanding is that evangelicals are generally supportive of the death penalty, though the relationship between religious views and the death penalty is always nuanced (as is well documented at this helpful overview webpage and this page from the Pew Forum).  Combining Miers' faith with her concerns about the inadequacies of indigent defense might make for some distinctive views on a range of capital punishment issues.

Moreover, as I noted when examining whether there is a new right on sentencing issues, concepts of redemption and forgiveness have often made religion a progressive criminal justice force in various areas.  In this recent post, for example, I noted a letter from Charles Thomas, Executive Director of the Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative, which asserted that "most major religious groups oppose mandatory sentencing."  The comments to that post highlighted the potentially combustible mix of religion politics and sentencing politics.

Ultimately, I am not sure what the mix of religion and criminal justice means for Harriet Miers (or even for my own view of her nomination).  But I am sure these issues merit a lot more attention as we all try to figure out whether Miers should be our next Justice.

Related posts on Miers' nomination:

Related posts on religion and criminal justice:

UPDATE: I see that The Truth Laid Bair has this amazing Miers page, and a quick review confirms my sense that nobody is examining criminal justice issues.

October 10, 2005 at 12:42 PM | Permalink

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