Sir Thomas More is often called the “Patron Saint of Lawyers,” although that praise is also bestowed upon others.
The Catholic martyr was proclaimed a saint in 1935.
The distinguished philosopher, politician, and jurist served as Lord Chancellor of England from October 1529 to May 16, 1532 when his resignation was accepted by King Henry VIII.
The devout Catholic was ardently opposed to the Protestant Reformation as heresy. He served as a supporter of King Henry VIII until the King undertook his split from the Church. His allegiance remained with the Papacy.
He refused to attend the coronation of Anne Boleyn as Queen of England. He also refused to take the oath of supremacy to the Crown in disputes between the King and the Pope.
He was arrested for treason in 1534, and then tried, convicted and beheaded in 1835. His defense at trial was silence since silence could be construed as an affirmation of support for the King. He was framed at trial on false testimony. The jury took 15 minutes to convict.
Robert Bolt wrote in 1960 a successful play, A Man for All Seasons. It became an Oscar winning movie in 1966.
Every judge, especially the Chief Justice, should watch the movie, if not the play. The highlights are also on Youtube for those with a short attention plan. It is a poignant portrayal of a judge, one of the highest jurists of the land, wrestling with his conscience (his soul) and the popular, in this case, life saving alternative. Thomas More adhered to his faith.
Several famous quotes come from A Man for All Seasons. Two clearly apply to the Chief Justice and his wrestling with his conscience and expediency.
The first is “Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world … but for Wales?”
The second is “When a man takes an oath, he’s holding his own self in his own hands like water, and if he opens his fingers then, he needn’t hope to find himself again.” Once you’ve made that compromise, how do you get it back?
The Chief Justice took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, not to curry favor with the media, President, or Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Often, one act, one decision, one indecision defines one’s life or career. There may be no redo. A Justice calling balls and strikes does not get a replay on a blown call.
The Affordable Care Act is the defining decision of Justice Roberts’ Court. No other case has the same significance. Historically it rewrites the Constitution to redefine the power of the state versus the people.
The status of the Court depends upon it being perceived as the only non-political branch of government. The nine justices have lifetime tenure to protect the independence of their decisions. If their decisions are viewed as those of just another political branch of government, then it loses credibility.
The initial response of the public to the Chief Justice’s decision is negative. According to a recent poll, the favorable opinion of the Court dropped 3% from 36% to 33% and its unfavorable opinion rose 11% to 28%.
The Chief Justice will never have the liberal justices, lost the conservatives, and watched (from Malta) a drop in the opinion of the Court. That’s quite a trifecta.
Saint Thomas More is revered in history as a man who answered to his soul all seasons of the year, not a man who bent with the prevailing winds.