Five U.S. Supreme Court justices attended the annual Roman Catholic Red Mass in Washington on Sunday, the unofficial kick-off of the fall season of the judiciary.
As they arrived at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito Jr. greeted each with hugs and handshakes, befitting colleagues who have not seen much of each other since June.
All except Kennedy brought their spouses. Kennedy’s wife, Mary Kennedy, suffered a fractured hip in July. Roberts’ wife, Jane Roberts, is parliamentarian of the John Carroll Society, the group of professionals in the Washington area who sponsor the Red Mass. The annual mass, which dates back 65 years, is aimed at blessing the work of government officials and workers, especially judges. The name reflects the red vestments worn by the legions of priests and bishops involved in the event.
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Neil Gorsuch were no-shows on Sunday. Ginsburg long ago swore off attending the mass after one year listening to what she later described as “an outrageously anti-abortion” sermon that she said even embarrassed her friend and conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
In recent years, the sermons have been less controversial, instead invoking more unifying themes. The sermon on Sunday, delivered by Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, followed that template, more or less.
“There is a time for politics and a time for prayer,” Gomez told the audience of nearly 1,000. “This is a day for prayer.”
Gomez did stress the need to respect and welcome immigrants and refugees. “In God’s eyes, there are no foreigners, there are no strangers!” Gomez exclaimed. “Let us commit ourselves to an America that cares for the young and the elderly, for the poor and the sick; an American where the hungry could find bread and the homeless a place to live; an America that welcomes the immigrant and refugee and offers the prisoner a second chance.”
Gomez also proclaimed religious freedom as “so essential to who we are as Americans. We should never silence the voices of believers.” That last sentence could be viewed as echoing a brief filed by the U.S. Conference of Bishops, of which Gomez is a member, in the pending Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
Also in attendance on Sunday were numerous judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the U.S. district court in Washington, and local courts, as well as the deans of local law schools, diplomats and prominent lawyers including Robert Bennett, a partner at Hogan Lovells. Newly confirmed Solicitor General Noel Francisco was on hand as was principal deputy Jeffrey Wall.
Also attending was someone else known to many in the legal community: Diego D’Ambrosio, the Dupont Circle barber who has trimmed the thinning hair of numerous justices and judges, past and present.