By / Mar 16

President Obama said Wednesday he would nominate appeals court judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court caused by the death of associate Justice Antonin Scalia. Here are five things you should know about Judge Garland:

1. Garland currently serves as the chief judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  The AP notes that at 63 years old, he would be the oldest Supreme Court nominee since Lewis Powell, who was 64 when he was confirmed in late 1971.

2. Garland graduated from both Harvard College and Harvard Law School.  Following graduation, he clerked for Judge Henry Friendly of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals from 1977 to 1978, and then clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. from 1978 to 1979. He has served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and deputy assistant attorney general in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in the Clinton administration. From 1994 until his appointment as U.S. Circuit Judge, he served as Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General, where his responsibilities included supervising the Oklahoma City bombing and UNABOM prosecutions. In 1995, President Clinton nominated Garland for a seat on the D.C. Circuit court.

3. During his confirmation hearing to the D.C. Circuit court, Garland was asked about "judicial activism." He answered that "[f]ederal judges do not have roving commissions to solve societal problems.  The role of the court is to apply law to the facts of the case before it not to legislate, not to arrogate to itself the executive power, not to hand down advisory opinion on the issues of the day.”

4. Garland’s position on social issues is unclear. As Tom Goldstein notes, “Because the D.C. Circuit's caseload is dominated by regulatory challenges, few of the cases in which Judge Garland participated involve hot-button social issues like abortion or the death penalty.” But it’s presumed that Garland would pass President Obama’s litmus test on abortion rights.

5. Garland has said that one of his key influences is the judge he previously clerked for, Judge Henry Friendly, and that he often asks himself, “What would Judge Friendly have done?” (Prior to Roe v. Wade, Judge Friendly wrote a never published decision saying that, “the decision what to do about abortion is for the elected representatives of the people, not for three, or even nine, appointed judges.”) But Garland also described the release of the papers of the late Justice Blackmun — the author of Roe v. Wade — as a "great gift to the country."

By / Apr 22

Daniel Patterson: Welcome back to the Questions and Ethics program with Russell Moore. I’m Daniel Patterson, and this week we had a question come in from a listener who asked us, “We had a presidential candidate suggest that Christians shouldn’t join the military until President Obama is out of office. What would you say to that, Dr. Moore?”

Russell Moore: Well, I would not agree with that at all. President Obama is doing many things that I don’t agree with, and President Obama is our commander in chief of our military forces right now, but I’m not sure what the candidate means in terms of the larger context as to why he would suggest that Christians should wait until after President Obama is out of office before joining the military.

Here’s the issue: We have some pressing religious liberty questions in the United States Military right now—questions that are pressing upon chaplains and others in terms of free exercise of religion. But those questions predated President Obama and will postdate President Obama in terms of how we are going to fight for religious liberty there. So, I don’t think that waiting or holding out until the end of President Obama’s term is going to make those religious liberty questions take care of themselves. We’ve got to advocate and to work and to set precedents there.

And then in terms of saying well, I can’t with a clear conscience serve under President Obama, I find that to not be an appropriate Christian perspective because you have military people in the New Testament—centurions and others—who are in the Roman military who are coming to Jesus, coming to John the Baptist—in the case of John the Baptist, they are explicitly asking what they ought to do in order to repent, and John does not tell them to leave the military service. Jesus has no problem calling people to repentance continuously, and yet when it comes to centurions and other military people that we see in the encounters with Jesus he never says that repentance means leaving the military. Now this is a military that was headed by someone who was completely hostile not only to the things of God but completely hostile to the very existence of the people of God as a free people—someone who is standing in the way of the covenant promises of God, and a system that Jesus says was entirely opposed to the way of the kingdom so that when Jesus talked about what the kingdom looked like in terms of leadership, he says it’s not like the way of the gentiles where authority is lorded over them. But nonetheless people of God were able to both follow Christ and be in the military.

I think if we ever were to get into a situation where military service were itself putting Christians into a place where they had to choose between the Lordship of Christ and military service—so you think of conscientious objection to the sort of—if we had a military that was routinely carrying out war crimes or pressing consciences to do that, or a military that said to people that they could not practice their faith or to confess Jesus as Lord, then of course Christians would not be able to serve in the military. But we are not at that point. Instead, what we need are godly Christian people in the military who are living out lives of integrity and who are also working to correct those religious liberty violations and pressures that are coming upon chaplains and others in the military. I think that’s a better way to handle it than some sort of boycott of the military.

Patterson: Thanks for joining the Questions and Ethics program. If you have a question you would like Dr. Moore to answer, email it to [email protected]. Join us next time when we’ll be back to help you apply the gospel to the pressing issues of the day.

By / Aug 4

On multiple occasions I have criticized the Obama administration for its deficient international religious freedom policy. So in fairness, I want to offer some praise for the administration when it takes positive measures. This week brings two such steps, modest but still meaningful. 

First, the State Department just issued its annual International Religious Freedom (IRF) report and its designations of "Countries of Particular Concern" (CPC) for particularly severe violations of religious liberty. For several years now the CPC list has been a stagnant gallery of religious persecutors: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Uzbekistan. This week the administration added Turkmenistan to the CPC list, a warranted designation given Ashgabat's longstanding antipathy to religious freedom. Of particular note for the internal designation process is that this decision was made while the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom position has been vacant. The absence of an IRF ambassador to advocate internally for the designation of Turkmenistan likely indicates cooperation and support from the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs. Given the general cultural reluctance of State's regional bureaus to sanction countries, this step is significant.

Of more consequence, President Obama at last announced his new nominee for the long-vacant position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Rabbi David Saperstein is the pick, and he is a strong choice. Saperstein has a long and distinguished background on the issue, including being an influential supporter of the passage of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, and then serving as the first chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. (I should add that I disagree with Saperstein on some important domestic religious freedom issues, but those are outside of his remit at the State Department). As important for his new role, Saperstein is wise in the ways of Washington, has a good relationship with Secretary Kerry, and will likely be an effective policy operator within the halls of Foggy Bottom and across the interagency. The IRF Office needs to be captained by such an advocate, as it is in perpetual risk of bureaucratic marginalization.

The Obama administration's foreign policy record thus far on human rights, democracy, and religious freedom is undistinguished, to say the least. Fortunately, as it approaches its final two years in office, it now has arguably its most capable diplomatic team yet on these issues in Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Rights, and Labor Tom Malinowski and Ambassador-designate Saperstein. I hope the Senate acts quickly to confirm Saperstein, and hope he and Malinowski can forge an effective tandem in advancing human liberty during a very turbulent time in the international system.

This article first appeared at ForeignPolicy.com.