Political SCOTUS?

Evangelisto Ramos was tried for second degree murder in Louisiana in 2016. After a two-day trial the jury voted 10-2 to convict him.

In 48 states (and in federal court), this would have resulted in a “hung jury” and a mistrial. Unfortunately for Mr. Ramos, he was tried in Louisiana, which (along with Oregon), permits non-unanimous verdicts, so he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

The question before the Court was whether the conviction was constitutional.

On this point—the point which Evangelisto Ramos was most interested in—the Court decided (6-3)1 that his conviction was not constitutional.


Here’s the scorecard:Ramos


Justice Gorsuch, who needed four Justices to join him, managed to make a 5-4 majority out of Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kavanaugh for most of his nine-part opinion. Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, of course were appointed by President Trump. Ginsburg and Breyer were Clinton appointees. Sotomayor was appointed by President Obama.

That means that Gorsuch could not attract the votes of the Chief Justice Roberts or Justice Alito (both George W. Bush appointees) or Justice Kagan (an Obama appointee) for any of his opinion, and that Justice Kavanaugh (Trump) couldn’t agree with him on three parts, and Justice Sotomayor (Obama) could not agree on one part. Justice Thomas (President George H.W. Bush) thought the conviction was unconstitutional, but for a more-or-less completely different reason, so he did not agree with Gorsuch on anything that he wrote, just the decision he made.

Who says that Supreme Court justices vote politically?


1The only other part of the 87 pages of opinions that were published today that garnered this kind of majority was that Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Thomas, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan and Kavanaugh agreed that whatever Justice Gorsuch thought he meant by part IV.A. of his opinion could not possibly be right.

NOTE: The greyed-out sections of the chart represent the parts that are not legally binding—73 out of 87 pages!

P.S. One headline “Supreme Court rules criminal jury verdicts must be unanimous, overturning decades-old precedent,” rather misses the point. Ramos overturns a lone case which stuck out of 500 years of precedent and which was of doubtful coherence—a 4-person plurality opinion combined with an odd 1-person opinion by Justice Powell—that “decided” that Louisiana could sort of get away with it, though Gorsuch writes that “no Member of the Court today defends either [the opinion of the four or the opinion of the one] as rightly decided.”

GH 1915-2019

Mr. Homanick was a Bible teacher in Detroit for many decades, so when he came to our church in the 2000s, there was some trepidation when he began to come to our adult Bible study on Sunday mornings.

To be sure the trepidation was mainly from Ken, who was never quite sure what I would say and who probably expected that his father-in-law would soon come and ask him whether he had lost his mind in selecting teachers.

But fortunately, things worked out and Mr. Homanick enjoyed our group and often told me that.

I had visited him a couple of times in his last sickness, when he would sit and wait for me to come by in the evening and talk about his treatments and the church and various things. He told me that last time that he was going to come back to church and was going to come right down to the front row for my class — but I dissuaded him from that: “I need a little space, Mr. Homanick, how about the second row?” — where he could hear well.

So on November 24, just 2½ weeks ago, he was very enthusiastic about coming back to church and the adult Bible study after a long hiatus. At 9:01, about 15 minutes before class started, I got a text from Sher —

my dad and Ken are on the way, please don’t start a minute early . . . [he wants to] come down to the front.

And Ken brought him right down to the second row, and he sat there and the whole class had the honor of studying Genesis with that great saint of God. He was a diligent student of the Word.

Mr. Homanick was, as many of you know, a mechanical engineer by trade, designing machines (for example) which would be used in the manufacture of automobiles. When he found out that our second son wanted a career in engineering, he made sure to look for Philip every Sunday and dispense career advice — some of which Philip recounted to me on the phone last night. Unlike some engineers, he was a man of great personal enthusiasm and encouragement, and he conveyed that everywhere he went.

Mr. Homanick was a reader, too, and when he found a book that he thought I would enjoy, he would buy it for me. He brought me a book called Thinking Fast and Slow (possibly to try to speed me up), and a book called Do I Make Myself Clear? (possibly because I didn’t), and a book of speeches by the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia (because Scalia was an outspoken believer). He was a kind and thoughtful man.

I first met Mr. Homanick many years ago when he and Sher’s mom Arlene would visit. Mrs. Homanick was chairbound and Mr. Homanick was fully of energy, but he seemed very compassionate and considerate of her needs.

Now, no one is always studious and diligent, enthusiastic and encouraging, kind and thoughtful, considerate and compassionate.

I’m sure that there were times when he was pigheaded, obstinate, thoughtless and hard. I know he was not an easy patient for his daughter these last few months.

He would not have denied this.

He would have said “Difficult? Well, I suppose I am, but you know what? I am not standing on my righteousness at all. I am standing on the righteousness of my Savior, Jesus Christ.”

The last time I visited him at Ken and Sher’s, he was very emotional, and after a half hour I thought I should probably go, so I got up to leave. Mr. Homanick was having none of it. It is customary when visiting someone who is sick that you only stay for 15 minutes and then ask permission to pray before leaving.

We didn’t quite get to that point.

Mr. Homanick sid “No, no, you can’t go — I have to pray for you.”

I came to visit him, but he was being the pastor in the moment.

The very last time I saw him was also the last time for many of you.

We were all at the church dinner before Thanksgiving. He was so thrilled to be there at the dinner with our little congregation, but after two services and the meal he was fatigued and probably in pain. He gamely persevered to the end of the dinner.

But the next time . . . .

The next time we see him we will all be together again in Thanksgiving, In that day we will be together at the great celebration of the marriage supper of the Lamb, and in that time there will be no pain and no sorrow and no fatigue.

In that day we will see Mr. Homanick strong and zealous, clothed in the white robe Jesus’ righteousness, celebrating with all the saints of history.

It was an honor to know him.

On honest uncertainty at a funeral

Between the stirrup

James Boswell attributes this near quotation of William Camden (originally “Betwixt the stirrup and the ground, Mercy I ask’d; mercy I found.”) to Samuel Johnson, and goes on to report that Johnson said “Sir, we are not to judge [with certainty] the state in which a man leaves this life. He may in a moment have repented effectually, and it is possible may have been accepted of God.” James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson 543 (1830) [link].*

We can never know the depth of God’s grace or the end of his persistent pursuit of each human heart. Let us resolve to speak the gospel of grace whenever we can.


*In the novel Brighton Rock (1938), Graham Greene has his character Pinkie rely on this quotation as a basis for rejecting grace on the assumption that he will be able to repent at the last moment. But in a moment in which his death seems imminent, he finds that he has hardened himself against repentance.

A gentleman and a novelist

Walter_Sullivan_FSWI just had the experience of reading a novel written by one of my professors at Vanderbilt University.

Walter Sullivan (1924-2006) introduced me to many of my favorite books, including Brideshead Revisited, The End of the Affair, War in Heaven, and “The Four Quartets” in a class he called “Angelic and Demonic Themes in 20th Century Literature.”  We also read The Spire and, I feel certain, some Flannery O’Connor. He was a marvelous teacher who started by teaching the basics of the Bible so that the class had a common language to discuss the modern works.  I have often wished I had spent more time working on “The Four Quartets” while I had opportunity to draw on his wisdom.*

Long Long Love

It turns out he wrote three novels and last night I read The Long, Long Love [link].**

It is the story of Horatio Adams, a man strangely incapable of accepting what happiness comes his way because of the pain and fear which distracts him.

It is a moving and lyrical book:

“I wondered about that, Horatio. What happened to us? Why did things work out the way they did?”

“Why?” I said. “Nobody ever really knows why. There are a thousand reasons for every turn of every day.” I pondered this a while, knowing it was true. Thinking that not only did God know about the fall of the sparrow, but that only the mind of God could know all the reasons why the sparrow fell.

Recommended (don’t expect any tank battles).

*Thomas Howard’s The Dove Descending (2006) [link] is the best substitute I know of.

**Sullivan had written it about twenty years before I met him.  How sad that I did not read it until more than twenty years after he died.  It is still in print.

“Cremains”

This was one of those “Yes, exactly!” moments.ScreenShot164

For those not previously enlightened:

Cremains, pl. n., the ashes of a cremated body (either a portmanteau or shortened form of “cremated” and “remains”)

The “Yes, exactly!” moment came when a friend gave me Lydia Davis’ short piece “Letter to a Funeral Parlor”:

Dear Sir,

I am writing to you to object to the word cremains, which was used by your representative when he met with my mother and me two days after my father’s death.

*   *   *

Then we were sitting there in our chairs in the living room trying not to weep in front of your representative, who was opposite us on the sofa, and we were very tired first from sitting up with my father, and then from worrying about whether he was comfortable as he was dying, and then from worrying about where he might be now that he was dead, and your representative referred to him as “the cremains.”

At first we did not even know what he meant. Then, when we realized, we were frankly upset. Cremains sounds like something invented as a milk substitute in coffee, like Cremora, or Coffee-mate. Or it sounds like some kind of a chipped beef dish.

Lydia Davis, “Letter to a Funeral Parlor,” in The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (2009).

The full piece is reproduced on the NPR website [link].