This morning Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito attended the Red Mass, a Roman Catholic liturgy held annually the Sunday before the Supreme Court’s new term to invoke God’s blessing on those responsible for the administration of justice. The justices sat – by seniority, as always – in the first two pews at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington. Noel Francisco, the newly confirmed solicitor general, and Jeffrey Wall, the former acting solicitor general, also attended the mass.
The homilist for the mass, Jose Gomez, archbishop of Los Angeles, indirectly referred to two issues before the justices this term – immigration and religious freedom.
In introducing himself at the start of his homily, Gomez noted that Los Angeles has the largest Roman Catholic congregation in the United States, which he described as an “immigrant church” with masses in over 40 languages. Although “the American dream is still a work in progress,” Gomez argued, “America is still a beacon of hope for refugees and all who long for freedom and equality under God.” “God doesn’t see color, the country we come from, or the language we speak,” Gomez preached.
Gomez also argued that “religious freedom is essential to America” because believers have led movements for justice and social change through America’s history – including movements for abolition, women’s suffrage, civil rights, farm workers, peace and the right to life.
Gomez is vice president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has taken positions on Supreme Court cases pertaining to both issues Gomez addressed. The USCCB filed an amicus brief in support of the challengers to the Trump administration’s entry ban in Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project, which Wall argued in the lower courts and which was recently removed from the justices’ October calendar. The USCCB filed an amicus brief in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. V. Colorado Civil Rights Commission supporting a devout Christian baker who claims that Colorado’s requirement that he create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple violates the free speech and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment. Last term the USCCB also filed an amicus brief for the church in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer. In an opinion written by Roberts, the court in that case held that the Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ policy of denying grants to applicants controlled by religious entities violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.
Gomez was not the only priest at the altar with involvement in recent Supreme Court cases. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, was the plaintiff in Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington v. Burwell, one of the cases consolidated as Zubik v. Burwell, a recent challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s birth-control mandate. When he was still an attorney at Jones Day, Francisco was the counsel of record for the archbishop and the other challengers in that case.
The Supreme Court’s October 2017 term begins Monday at 10 a.m., with oral argument in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis.