Does Linda Greenhouse have a problem with Catholics? Or just with religion in general? Greenhouse, a Pulitzer Prize winner, was the Supreme Court reporter for the New York Times for thirty years, retiring in 2008. She now teaches at Yale Law School and is still a prolific Times opinion writer. Her writing also appears widely elsewhere. She has long been a vehement abortion-rights advocate, who regularly supported Planned Parenthood financially and once attended an abortion-rights demonstration even while covering the High Court’s abortion cases. She insists that her views on abortion never influenced her reporting.
I read Greenhouse’s opinion pieces because she is an uncommonly clear explicator of legal questions, and I share her worries about what the current Court will do when it comes to environmental, corporate, and voting-rights law. However, it is impossible to ignore the deep suspicions she harbors about the Supreme Court’s Catholic justices or her conviction that religion should be an entirely private matter in a “secular” society like ours. The Court’s Dobbs decision overturning Roe, which she rightly predicted once all Trump’s nominees were placed on the bench, has infuriated her. In the wake of that decision, she has ventured some dubious assertions about the justices’ thinking and the place of religion in American democracy. In a November article in the Atlantic (“What in the World Happened to the Supreme Court?”), Greenhouse writes that the fact of being raised Catholic is “a convenient proxy for the ‘Will you promise to overturn Roe?’ question no president could ask directly.” She makes no similar charge about the influence of religion on a justice’s pro-choice views when she notes that Justice Elena Kagan had obliquely criticized the Court’s Dobb’s decision while speaking at New York’s Temple Emanu-El. Perhaps Greenhouse believes Kagan’s view is based on reason, not the teachings of her own religious tradition, while the Catholic justices are enthralled by Church dogma or something worse. But the Jewish allowance for abortion is based on tradition and Scripture, not secular reason.
In a 2021 column for the Times, “God Has No Place in Supreme Court Opinions,” Greenhouse decries the intrusion of religion into politics and the courts. “Republican officeholders are no longer coy about their religion-driven mission to stop abortion,” she writes, somewhat cryptically describing herself as someone who rejects “the notion of God as the ultimate personnel administrator.” Writing about another recent abortion case, she complains that “the fact that the [sic] four of the court’s six Roman Catholic justices and a fifth who was raised Catholic but is now Episcopalian, all conservative, allowed a blatantly unconstitutional law to remain in place pending appeal has barely been noted publicly.” She seems to think the Court’s refusal to act was done for explicitly religious reasons. She asks, “what reason other than religious doctrine is there” for opposing abortion rights? In her most recent column, “The Crusade to Place Religion over the Rest of Civil Society,” she warns that the Court is about to expand the scope of religious exemptions workers can seek from employers, while lamenting the loss of a time when the Court supposedly treated religion “as nothing particularly special.” She ends the column by repeating her claim that Roe was overturned for religious rather than legal reasons.