Editorial: Brett Kavanaugh Fails the Anselmian Test

Senate Holds Confirmation Hearing For Brett Kavanugh To Be Supreme Court Justice
Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh fielded questions from the United States Senate in anticipation of his confirmation. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Today, The Hilltopper issues its first official editorial. In an unusual step, we are not speaking with a unified voice about a campus issue of note. We are instead writing about a national issue of grave importance that will directly impact the lives of every person who works, teaches, or learns at Saint Anselm College.

After the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, President Donald Trump announced he would fill Kennedy’s important seat with Brett Kavanuagh, a jurist of the United State District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Rather than evaluate Kavanaugh’s nomination on solely his judicial experience, as some have done, or solely his judicial leanings, as some have done, The Hilltopper chose to evaluate Judge Kavanaugh’s record and the answers he gave during his confirmation hearings and decide whether or not he fulfills the ten Benedictine Hallmarks and Core Values that help to define what it means to be “Anselmian.” Those ten values are love, prayer, stability, conversatio, obedience, discipline, humility, stewardship, hospitality, and community. It is the opinion of The Hilltopper that in five of these ten values, Judge Kavanaugh falls dramatically short.

The first value is love, defined as the love of Christ and neighbor. Anthony Kennedy, whom Kavanaugh is nominated to replace, has a conservative-leaning judicial philosophy, but it is one rooted in love of Christ and neighbor. With only one notable exception – and it is certainly a large exception – Anthony Kennedy has voted to advance civil rights. On issues like affirmative action, Kennedy’s record is mixed but his important vote in Fisher v. United States (2016), shows it was not the principle of affirmative action that Kennedy objected to but rather the legal justification. In Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), Kennedy cast the deciding vote to guarantee protection for same-sex marriage under the Equal Protection Clause, showing a respect and love for queer neighbors.

In contrast, Kavanaugh’s record on these issues is cause for concern. Emails from Kavanaugh’s time in the Bush White House reveal a doubt over affirmative action programs aimed at helping racial minorities and others overcome longstanding and systematic oppression. In fielding questions from Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Kavanaugh used the term “racial spoils system,” which is a term commonly used by white supremacists to oppose racial equality. When pressed by Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), Kavanaugh was unable to clearly articulate why he used that specific term. Kavanaugh has also upheld a law that requires voters to present a photo ID before casting a ballot, a law that disproportionately affects people of color, older people, and working-class people.

When it comes to showing a love for all of his neighbors, Brett Kavanaugh falls short.

The Hilltopper does not pretend to have an intimate knowledge of Kavanaugh’s prayer life, nor do we find “stability” an applicable value in this context.

We do, however, believe that the Kavanaugh nomination falls short in other hallmarks and values of the Benedictine traditions.

A respect for judicial precedent is not only essential to a judicial philosophy of integrity, it is also similar to the Benedictine hallmark of obedience. Benedictine monks are asked to listen to their community, much as one might expect a good judge to listen to the legal community and his judicial forebears, who decided the right of a woman to make her own reproductive health care decisions is implicit in the Constitution.

Kavanaugh has purported to respect precedent. When grilled about his beliefs over Roe v. Wade (1973), Kavanaugh time and time again referred to the fact it is precedent. When Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) said that she was concerned over Kavanaugh’s philosophy on choice, he reaffirmed that he believed Roe was “settled law.” However, when pressed in his confirmation hearings, Kavanaugh refused to rule out overturning Roe. Supreme Court candidates of all political persuasions traditionally avoid hypotheticals, and that is to be understood. We don’t want potential justices locked into deciding a case before hearing all of the facts. However, Kavanugh’s commitment to Senator Collins appears to have been a lie.

In an email from Kavanaugh’s time in the Bush Administration, Kavanaugh objected to referring to Roe as “settled law.” Stating in full, “I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since Court can always overrule its precedent, and three current Justices on the Court would do so.”

Understanding precedent and its importance is essential to the judicial process. Of course, some Supreme Court cases are wrongly decided, like the infamous Dred Scott case that defined African-Americans as less than a human. However, cases in need of being overturned are rare. It’s why so many people were appalled when the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME (2018) overturned the Court’s ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977).

The current Court has shown an interest in overturning precedent, even though many of the justices, like Kavanaugh, claimed to respect it.

There is even reason to believe that Kavanaugh is willing to go against precedent. In the DC Circuit, he has not restrained from attempting to unravel judicial precedent, even though he has claimed to have the utmost respect for it. In Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. EPA (2012), Kavanaugh sought to undo not one but two Supreme Court rulings.

Kavanaugh’s wholistic record on the environment is problematic beyond the aforementioned ruling.

Another Benedictine hallmark is that of stewardship. Deeply rooted in the Benedictine, and therefore, the Anselmian, tradition is a respect for creation and a concern for that creation. Some prominent figures have lived this out, like Saint Francis of Assisi. Brett Kavanaugh, however, has shown anything but a respect for creation. Interestingly enough, few nominees have ever had a history of dealing with cases pertaining so directly to God’s signature creation, the planet, as Kavanaugh does.

The League of Conservation Voters has done an extensive account of Brett Kavanaugh’s approach to creation. The League points to not one or two but 17 cases in which Brett Kavanaugh sided against the environment. Some might say that a legitimate interpretation of the law led Kavanaugh to the conclusion he made, but Kavanaugh was almost always in the minority in these opinions. Usually, the Supreme Court disagreed with Kavanaugh’s interpretation.

In addition to Kavanaugh’s disregard for stewardship is his disregard for hospitality or, openness to the other. Frequently, students of Saint Anselm College are told of the importance of “Benedictine hospitality” that makes our campus so unique. Tour guides tout our emphasis on openness and inclusivity, using their words and actions to demonstrate that we are a college that is more than congenial or polite but truly welcoming.

Brett Kavanaugh’s judicial philosophy lacks any semblance of hospitality. One may say that this is perfectly acceptable, that the law should be cold and void of an individual’s own passions. The Hilltopper does not claim that the personal emotions and feelings of a justice should enter their judicial decisions, but we do see a stunning disregard for “the other,” in Kavanaugh’s approach to issues like reproductive rights, voting rights, and affirmative action. We further believe that a concern for “the other” is essential to a fair judicial system. If the law will not stand with “the other,” who will?

It is hard to imagine that a nominee who excludes love of neighbor, obedience, stewardship of creation, and hospitality to the other can truly fulfill another core tenet of Benedictine communities, the word so familiar to Saint Anselm students: conversatio. How can a good life be so lacking in these critical hallmarks?

We recognize that in terms of discipline and community, Brett Kavanaugh has proven himself to be Anselmian. He has dedicated his life to the careful consideration and study of the law, and he has chosen to do so not to enrich himself but to serve the common good. We admire the nominee in these respects.

However, of the eight values on which we attempted to evaluate Mr. Kavanaugh’s nomination – again, excluding prayer and stability – we found his nomination to be thoroughly wanting in five essential areas: love, obedience, stewardship, hospitality, and conversatio.

When the father of someone who died in the Parkland shooting introduced himself to Brett Kavanaugh, the nominee refused to shake his hand. (Photo by Fred Guttenberg of Getty Images)

And in a community where something as small as holding the door for the person behind you is valued, how can we truly call a man “Anselmian” when he refuses to shake the hand of a parent who lost his child to gun violence?

Some will challenge The Hilltopper’s decision to issue its first editorial on the Kavanaugh nomination instead of on a pressing campus matter. We recognize this concern, but we cannot emphasize enough how much the Kavanaugh nomination will impact those in the Saint Anselm community. Whether it is the nursing student who may see changes in how they can interact with their patients, or a future student of color who may have obstructions created in the college admission process, or the Benedictine monks who will be forced to preach about love and hospitality in a nation that no longer seems to value these tenets of our shared Anselmian nature, the people of Saint Anselm College will be deeply affected by this judicial confirmation. Not only that, we will be worse for it.

The Hilltopper encourages all students to make themselves aware of the Kavanaugh nomination and its consequences. We further urge all those in our community who share our concerns to contact their legislators.

The above piece is written on behalf of The Hilltoper editorial board. It expresses the opinion of that board, not necessarily the opinion of individual writers for the paper. When writing the piece, the board consulted documents published by Benedictine University and Saint Anselm College.

Featured image by Doug Mills of The New York Times.

Questions Arise About College Layoffs

In the wake of Saint Anselm College’s decision to lay off 13 employees, questions have arisen about the true nature of the college’s financial status. The college’s Form 990 and 2017 financial report do not seem to reveal any glaring issues concerning the immediate finances of the school. When combined with recent increases in enrollment and tuition, the decision to layoff 14 staff members may come as suspect.

In a statement to The Hilltopper issued on May 25, 2018, the college seemed to suggest that the 14 eliminated positions were a preemptive measure, not necessarily a response to declining revenue. The statement read in part, “We have been blessed with success in recent years, and our enrollment and endowment are very strong. We need to maintain the position of strength from which we currently operate into the future.”

The statement continued, “The college’s future is bright. However, based on long range financial projections, there was valid concern about the college’s current ability to meet upcoming financial challenges, and consensus that lowering our overall expense growth was critical.”

When asked to further elaborate on the college’s financial footing, Eric Norman, the CFO, referred The Hilltopper to the previous statement issued by the college.

Students have been outraged by the decision to cut 14 people from the school, many of whom held student-facing positions. A petition launched online by “SACstudents4change,” received more than 200 signatures in its first six hours. The petition reads in part, “Firing members of the community with very little notice is unjust and does not follow the Benedictine values of hospitality, justice, and respect.” As of now, the petition has nearly 900 signatures.

The petition also addresses the fact that the student body was not informed directly of the terminations. The New Hampshire Union Leader first reported the story followed shortly by The Hilltopper. No email was sent to the student body about the firings.

Among the demands of the petition is a call for “financial transparency.” It reads, “It is only fair that alumni and generous donors know exactly where their money is going. In order to continue these days, we need an honest report of the College’s financial status.”

Evan Brown of South Burlington, Vermont, signed the petition. He commented, “For too long this administration has only cared about asking for money rather than looking out for the best for the community. As an alum I am refusing to donate until significant changes have been made.”

The demand for financial transparency has been an underlying theme in the criticism of the administration’s recent decision. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, President DiSalvo was compensated $359,874 for his work at the college in 2015, including $20,000 in a bonus. According to Business Insider, that puts Dr. DiSalvo in the top 1% of income earners in New Hampshire and just shy of the threshold to be classified in the top 1% of income earners in the United States.

CFO Eric Norman took office in September 2017. (Photo by Saint Anselm)

Some have asked questions about the new makeup of the school’s finance office, now under the leadership of CFO Eric Norman. In May of 2018, the office hired a new woman as the Senior Financial Analyst. Yet, two staff members of the finance office with more than 20 years of combined experience were among the 14 let go by Saint Anselm College. A former staff member of the school who left before the announcement of layoffs told The Hilltopper Mr. Norman had an extensive personal and professional history with the new analyst. Mr. Norman declined to comment.

There has also been tension with the monastic community. According to a current college staff member, the monastery was on their annual retreat when the layoffs were executed. That same staff member confirmed that the monastic community was not notified of the layoffs ahead of time. Even Abbot Mark Cooper, OSB, the Chancellor of the College, was not informed.

Thanks to a current college staff member, The Hilltopper is able to report an updated list of 14 positions that have been eliminated. Twelve of these positions were already mentioned in the previous article on the matter. The additional two positions are the Director of Advancement and Campaign Communications and an administrative assistant in the Dana Center. Of the 14 people fired from the college, nine were financial contributors to the school.

It is not clear how the Dana Center will operate without a director or administrative assistant. The college has not released a statement explaining its plans for the Center.

It has been two weeks since the layoffs, but the school administration has not informed the student body of the terminations in any formal capacity. Perhaps answers will come after the Board of Trustees meets Friday.

Cover image by FJ Gaylor.

“You’re Literally Causing Massive Public Scandal to the Knights and the Church”

Andrew Keyes (center) was an altar server and Grand Knight of the Saint Anselm College chapter of the Knights of Columbus until his recent resignation.

In recent weeks there has been confusion and controversy surrounding the events that transpired following the Knights of Columbus formal. On March 16, Andrew Keyes, who was the Grand Knight of the Council at the time, brought his boyfriend to the organization’s formal, which is held on campus in a member’s apartment. Shortly after, Keyes was asked to resign from his position as Grand Knight by Father Benedict Guevin, O.S.B.

In reflecting on the night of formal itself, Keyes explains that he was under the impression that everything went well. He was very clear that prior to the formal and in the first few days after, he had not been given any reason to believe bringing a male date would be a problem. This changed, however, when Keyes received a text the following Wednesday from Knights member Andrew Cilento which read, “1) you’re off serving 2) resign now as Grand Knight or I’m going to motion to have you removed.” A later text read, “you’re literally causing massive public scandal to the Knights and the Church.”

When asked to comment on these messages, Cilento admitted that he should have approached Keyes in person and attested to the difficulty of holding the position as Grand Knight. Cilento believes, “It was inappropriate for Mr. Keyes to hold a leadership position for a Catholic organization while being in a relationship that is contrary to the teachings of Holy Mother Church.” Despite fundamentally disagreeing with Keyes, Cilento issued a written statement saying, “I have always had great respect for Mr. Keyes, and I will continue to do so, regardless of this incident.”

In the same week as Keyes’ interaction with Cilento, Father Benedict, whom Keyes describes as a friend, contacted Keyes and requested a meeting off campus. At the end of what Fr. Benedict describes as a “lovely lunch,” he asked for Keyes’ resignation from his position as Grand Knight. Keyes’ actions led Fr. Benedict to believe his “hands were tied.” This decision came after multiple conversations with the Supreme Council.

Denying allegations of discrimination, Fr. Benedict explains that he was forced to ask for Keyes’ resignation due to the public nature of his acts. Because Keyes held a public position in a distinctly Catholic organization, he was expected to uphold Catholic values in his public life.

While many have said that this is a case of discrimination based on Keyes’ sexuality, Fr. Benedict believes that this is not the case, and “to throw around the word discrimination is unwise and untrue.” Fr. Benedict, as chaplain of the Council, is responsible for holding members to Catholic teaching. Because the Grand Knight is in an exemplary position, it is especially important that he be held to the standards of Catholic teachings. When Keyes brought a male date to the formal, he was contradicting Catholic teaching, according to Fr. Benedict. The act caused much anger and confusion within the group’s membership, especially among the younger members of the Knights.

Fr. Benedict reports that he received word that younger members were confused about how Keyes’ relationship related to the teachings of the church, and this contributed to Fr. Benedict’s request for Keyes’ resignation. Fr. Benedict was clear that he and older members of the Knights “know Mr. Keyes, we know what he’s like, we know what his reputation is.” However, younger members of the Council were confused because of Keyes’ failure to uphold the values of the Catholic Church while being in a public position of authority. Fr. Benedict explained this further. “When the Grand Knight comes in with his boyfriend you can imagine people saying, ‘What the fuck is that all about?’”

Fr. Benedict, as chaplain, had an obligation to respond to this confusion and bring clarity to the younger members of the Knights. This anger and confusion, along with urging from the Supreme Council, ultimately led to his request for Keyes’ resignation. Both Keyes and Fr. Benedict acknowledge that Keyes understood this reasoning and gracefully resigned.

Shortly after Keyes’ resignation, during Easter break, Fr. Benedict received word that many Knights were upset with the decision, claiming that Keyes was forced to resign and that this was an act of bigotry. Fr. Benedict cleared up these accusations by saying that Keyes was not forced to resign and that this is not an act of bigotry. When asked, however, what would have transpired if Keyes had not gracefully resigned, Fr. Benedict did not feel comfortable entering the realm of speculation, explaining that the Supreme Council had suggested something he was “not comfortable with.” Impeachment by a vote of the fellow knights, however, is not a specified procedure laid forth in their bylaws.

Many have claimed Keyes’ removal as Grand Knight is an attempt to avoid losing funding from the Supreme Council. The Financial Secretary of the Knights, Father Stephen Lawson, O.S.B., would like to make clear that, “The Saint Anselm College Knights of Columbus is entirely self-funded…  The notion that the Supreme Council (the national Knights organization) put financial pressure on the Saint Anselm Council is totally baseless and false because we do not receive money from our national organization.” Fr. Benedict echoes Fr. Stephen’s comments, explaining that if there is an exchange of funds, it is from the campus Council to the Supreme, not the other way around. The Knights also receive no funding from the College.

Thus, the reasoning for Keyes’ resignation is again brought back to the public display of his sexuality. Fr. Benedict maintains that “If Mr. Keyes were gay and private about it and kept his private life private, there would be no issue, but that’s not what Mr. Keyes chose to do.”

Amid questions about involvement from the ACLU, Fr. Benedict denies that he has had any contact with the ACLU. He further states that there is no reason for their involvement because this is not a case of discrimination.

Keyes, however, has received mixed reactions from members of the Knights. He expressed that the fact that he brought a male date, his boyfriend, to the Knights formal was “disgusting to a member or two.” Others have been supportive of Keyes, and Keyes says some knights have resigned in solidarity with him after the incident. Some members of the Knights have even gone as far as to suggest the Council should be dissolved, according to Keyes.

As the Catholic Church is forced to reconcile its teachings with the realities of the 21st century, questions about the Church’s beliefs and human sexuality continue to surface. The Saint Anselm community is especially susceptible to these debates because of its dual role as a monastery and place for scholarship. Keyes himself characterized the Catholicism at Saint Anselm as “traditionalist,” while reiterating Pope Francis’ question, “Who am I to judge?” It seems clear that, like the Church, Saint Anselm will be wrestling with these issues for years to come.