By M. Alex Johnson Reporter
msnbc.com
updated 10/13/2004 5:25:13 PM ET 2004-10-13T21:25:13

Politicians “can’t make up [their] own rules,” a leading Catholic Democrat said Wednesday, accusing Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry of being “misguided” when he promised to appoint only Supreme Court justices who would uphold legal abortion.

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“If you’re a Catholic and you profess to be a faithful Catholic, those are the rules of the game. You can’t change them,” former Boston Mayor Raymond L. Flynn, who was President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to the Vatican from 1993 to 1997, said in an interview three days after he published a full-page advertisment in The New York Times criticizing Kerry for imposing what he called a “litmus test” on potential judicial nominees.

Kerry, the junior senator from Massachusetts who at times earlier in his career was closely allied with Flynn, has not said he would use abortion as a “litmus test” — a make-or-break issue — when appointing judges.

But Kerry has said he would not appoint an anti-abortion justice to the Supreme Court if doing so would tip the balance against Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 decision in which the court legalized abortion. And in his second debate with President Bush last week, Kerry said that while he personally opposed abortion, he could not “take what is an article of faith for me and legislate it for someone who doesn’t share that article of faith.”

In the New York Times advertisement, which was fashioned as a letter, Flynn, whose support helped jump-start Kerry’s political career in the 1980s, said that meant Kerry would “support people to the federal judiciary who support killing unborn children.”

“This letter is not on behalf of or in opposition to your candidacy, but I am asking you to announce today that you will not impose any abortion litmus test on candidates for the federal judiciary — especially those who are faithful Catholics,” said the advertisement, which was paid for by Liberty, Life and Family, a non-profit Catholic organization of which Flynn is president.

The Kerry campaign responded by issuing a statement to The Boston Globe: “John Kerry and Ray Flynn are longtime friends who disagree about the right to choose. ... John Kerry is a Catholic whose faith guides his life, and he’ll be a president, like John Kennedy, who represents the rights of all Americans.”

‘Red herring’
Flynn said Wednesday that Kerry was “misguided” in the second debate. Rather than insulate their policies from their religious beliefs, he said, politicians were obligated to act on those beliefs, regardless of their denomination.

“That’s a red herring to say you leave your values at the steps of the statehouse,” said Flynn, who was a dominant force in Boston Democratic politics almost four decades before Clinton appointed him ambassador to the Vatican in 1993.

“You bring those values with you into the statehouse or into the Congress, and you make judgments not on what is best for the party or what is best for political expediency or that’s what the editorial writers say or that’s what the special interest groups are advocating,” he said. “You do what’s best for your country and what is best for your personal values and beliefs. You try to do both.”

Judges, including Supreme Court justices, should be chosen solely on the basis of their qualifications, not their specific positions on abortion or any other issue, said Flynn, who denied that he was seeking to impose an abortion-based litmus test of his own.

“When I was mayor of Boston [from 1984 to 1993], I appointed maybe 20,000 people ... and I didn’t challenge anybody at all for this," he said. “I appointed people on the basis of qualifications. Some of these people agreed with me on the pro-life issue; others did not.”

Flynn pointed to one potential judicial candidate — Mary Ann Glendon, a professor at Harvard Law School — as someone who “should be serving on the Supreme Court if that’s what she wants. But she happens to be pro-life.”

Bush vs. Kerry issue-by-issue“Based on her qualifications and scholarship, I don’t know anyone that matches her ability or temperament,” Flynn added. “... And we're now saying a person like that can’t serve on the United States Supreme Court because she happens to be a faithful Catholic. I don’t think that’s what this country represents.”

Since leaving elective politics, Flynn has devoted his time to promoting faith-based opposition to abortion and commitment to the poor. In August, another organization he leads, Catholic Citizenship, began a nationwide drive to register observant Catholics to vote.

Flynn stressed that he was endorsing neither candidate for president and that his letter should not be seen as a statement of support for Bush.

“I didn’t expect that I would be drawn into this major political debate” when he published the ad. “I’m not involved in this campaign. I’m a Catholic traveling around the United States speaking to other Catholics.”

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