The Supreme Court convened this morning for the start of its new term, which features a docket heavy with cases concerning business regulation and oversight of the financial system. But the opening ceremonies started yesterday, with the Red Mass, an annual Catholic service held at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington that recalls medieval entreaties for blessings on “those engaged in the administration of justice.” (Chief Justice John Roberts’s wife, Jane, is parliamentarian of the John Carroll Society, which began arranging the services in 1953 with the goal of getting the justices’ ears.) This year, the blessings included a homily by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Galveston-Houston archdiocese, who asked the justices to help defend the rights not just those who are voiceless for lack of influence or power, but those who are “literally voiceless, not yet with tongues and even without names”—in other words, unborn children.
It’s not terribly surprising that five of the Court’s six Catholic members—Roberts and Associate Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and Samuel Alito—were there, but so was Stephen Breyer, who is Jewish but goes every year anyway. Who wasn’t there? Well, Clarence Thomas (Catholic!) sent his regrets, and John Paul Stevens (the lone Wasp on the current court) skipped it, too. And no one expected Ruth Bader Ginsburg to interrupt her Sukkot observances (or, you know, whatever she was doing yesterday) to go; girlfriend has made it clear she doesn’t need to hear it from the Catholics. “I went one year and I will never go again, because this sermon was outrageously anti-abortion,” Ginsburg told Abigail Pogrebin, who interviewed the justice for the anthology Stars of David. “Even the Scalias, even though they’re very much of that persuasion, were embarrassed for me.”