Not long ago, Douglas Kmiec was an active campaigner for Mitt Romney for president — a plausible fit for the conservative Pepperdine law professor who once served in the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
But on Sunday, the former dean of Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law made a surprising switch. He wrote in Slate that he had switched to none other than Sen. Barack Obama.
Kmiec says he is not abandoning his conservative principles. He recited his continued support for traditional marriage and his opposition to abortion, big government, judicial activism and excessive separation of church and state. Kmiec wrote, “I am convinced, based upon his public pronouncements and his personal writing, that on each of these questions he is not closed to understanding opposing points of view and, as best as it is humanly possible, he will respect and accommodate them.”
We caught up with Kmiec to explore his decision more fully, and he answered questions about it by e-mail:
BLT: How did you come to this decision? Was there a triggering event — such as Obama’s speech on race last week?
Kmiec: “It was a long period of prayer and discernment. I was of course impressed by the race speech, and I’ve been using it in class as we have made our way through Brown v Board of Education and subsequent cases on school desegregation, affirmative action and the equal protection clause.
“But it was more than that. Even before Senator Obama began his quest for the presidency in earnest, it came to my attention that he had spoken with considerable sensitivity to the issues of church and state. Obama called for ‘a sense of proportion to guide those who police the boundaries between church and state.’ And he specifically called for an end of the politics of division where Republicans would allege that Democrats have nothing but hostility for people of faith and Democrats would understate the importance of faith in America’s history and in the life of everyday Americans. He seems to grasp that not every mention of God in public is a breach of the wall of separation — that context matters. Most of all, he understood that ‘people are tired of seeing faith used as a tool to attack and belittle and divide.’”
BLT: How do you square this decision with your past support for President Reagan and your opposition to abortion, for example?
Kmiec: “The search for common ground, to build bridges, and to lift us up to our better nature is very much in the vein of Ronald Reagan as I remember him. Obama has indicated that he says a prayer each day for America that our profound disagreements ‘will not prevent us from living with one another in a way that reconciles the beliefs of each with the good of all.’
“Well, I do have profound disagreements with Senator Obama, most notably on abortion — a practice that I cannot characterize as anything other than a grave moral evil. He is tolerant of the practice, though importantly, not approving of it. Quite the contrary, as he has stated, ‘there’s a moral component to prevention [of pregnancy outside of marriage]. And we shouldn’t be shy about acknowledging it. As parents, as family members, we need to encourage young people to show reverence towards sexuality and intimacy. We need to teach that not just to the young girls, we need to teach it to those young boys.’
“Obama conveyed that message of responsibility to Planned Parenthood. Most Democrats would’ve just played to the crowd. That’s not enough to satisfy my Catholic concerns, but it is a beginning, and the focus on reducing abortion by family teaching seems to me to be far more prudent and effective than trying to change matters by force of law by forever seeking the elusive vote to overturn Roe [v. Wade.]
“In addition, Senator Obama’s approach to many other issues readily coincide with Catholic social teaching: most notably, his opposition to the war in Iraq and his recognition of how much this mistake has cost us in terms of life, international standing, and the public debt that has aggravated the woes of our national economy.”
BLT: How have your colleagues and students reacted to your decision?
Kmiec: “The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive among my students who are quite inspired by the Senator. Among my former Republican colleagues and friends, the story is a bit different. But as I tell them, at a time when the nation’s interests are seriously challenged, blind partisanship is still blind.
“Interestingly, a few prominent Republicans have indicated to me that they also had wanted to announce their support for the Senator but feared criticism.
“Those who raise objections mostly do so in reasoned argumentation, but there is also some name-calling. I try my best to answer as many reasoned concerns as I can and to charitably overlook the epithets.”
First reported in The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times