Should God (Or Anyone) Save the Supreme Court?

Should God (Or Anyone) Save the Supreme Court? August 3, 2023

These days, if you’re not reading about indictments against former U.S. President Donald Trump, you might be reading about Supreme Court corruption and undue influence. It begs the question of whether anything can be done about this pervasive, ethical erosion in our national institutions. Could a prayer be the solution?

The Prayer Of The Supreme Court

Every time the justices of the United States Supreme Court enter their grand and ornate courtroom to conduct their business, the Marshal of the Supreme Court raps the gavel and declares:

 “Oyez! Oyez! (Old French for “Hear Ye! Hear Ye!“) 

All persons having business before the honorable, 

the Supreme Court of the United States, 

are admonished to draw near and give their attention, 

for the Court is now sitting. 

God save these United States,

and this honorable Court!” 

It’s been called the “prayer of the Court.” The question these days is, how will this prayer be answered? A seminary professor of mine told me years ago, “Don’t ever pray for something you’re not willing to be the answer to.” When it comes to our nation’s highest court, we may each need to be God’s answer to the problem.

The Court As My One-time Mission Field

As a “missionary to top elected and appointed officials,” I came and went from the Supreme Court for nearly twenty years. I was directly connected to one anti-abortion case, sat in on arguments for many others, and submitted briefs supporting cases involving other right-wing issues, including public displays of crosses and sculptures of the Ten Commandments. Most significantly, though, I got to know the conservative justices, sitting at meals with them, visiting their highly privatized chambers, and saying an occasional prayer with some. 

Through my involvement with the Supreme Court Historical Society and numerous litigators before the justices, I became a student of the judicial branch of government. On the other end of appointments to the High Court, I developed friendships with U.S. Senate judiciary committee members and their staffs, who shepherd presidential nominees through the confirmation process. I attended several hearings and used holy oil to anoint the chair Samuel Alito sat in as senators questioned him. I also conferred with plenty of White House personnel on possible candidates for the High Court, letting them know my opinion. 

The Court’s Moral Collapse

After Donald Trump’s election in 2016, I hoped he would nominate a solid social conservative to fill the slot left open after the death of one of my favorite interlocutors, Justice Antonin Scalia. Trump did so when he picked Neil Gorsuch of Colorado. What I knew, but most people didn’t back then, is that a guy named Leonard Leo had already chosen Gorsuch. Before Trump announced Gorsuch to the country, a nationally-known Christian leader assured me all would be well because “POTUS is working from Leonard’s list.” Leo, now infamous for having connected Justices Alito and Thomas with billionaire benefactors, was much admired in my circles. My colleagues and I saw him as a wizard regarding judicial candidates for every federal court level. 

The fact that Gorsuch, and later Justices Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, were pre-selected by an unaccountable, private collection of ideologically driven lawyers, activists, and lobbyists doesn’t seem to comport with a democratic process. It most certainly isn’t transparent. It becomes even more concerning since we’re learning about the orchestrated connections between these justices and wealthy, powerful, and well-connected actors. I coordinated a parallel project dubbed “Operation Higher Court” that deployed wealthy couples who befriended the justices we thought favored our positions on abortion, homosexuality, and religious liberty. The goal was to bolster their opinions so they would render the strongest possible rulings on the questions that mattered most to us.

My Complicity With The Court’s Corruption

When I agreed last year to cooperate with an extensive New York Times investigative report on the covert work I did at the High Court from 2000 to 2017, I did so because I felt it was in the country’s and the Court’s best interests. I’m not proud of everything I did under “Operation Higher Court.” I now see it undermining the very reason the judicial branch exists.

The moniker chiseled into the building’s marble above its majestic staircase speaks to the unique institution’s raison d’etre, “Equal Justice Under Law.” Secretive dealings, privileged access, and personal patronage at the last stop for American justice defeat the very meaning of that phrase. I used religion to gain advantages relative to the justices. I observed others who employed money or celebrity. 

Arguably, anything beyond the objective, uniform, and disinterested administration of justice belies what courts–specifically, the Supreme Court–exist to do. 

As the country becomes understandably absorbed in the historic criminal trials of an ex-president, it would be easy to lose sight of the scandals that have overtaken the nation’s highest tribunal. The public’s confidence in the government body that is the epitome of our judicial system and the symbol of our constitutional order is at an all-time low. This crisis could be a harbinger of terrible things to come.

Why Focus On The Supreme Court?

For anyone wondering why I’m writing about the Supreme Court and not about something narrowly focused on religion, this has everything to do with a quintessential religious tenet–for Christians and adherents of just about every other transcendent belief system. Ethics, right and wrong, equality, and preferential care for the poor, marginalized, and persecuted are at the core of good religion. Nearly every major creed has a rule that guides it toward fairness. So, justice systems should be the secular equivalent of one of the highest religious principles. If it is not, it is deficient and harmful instead of helpful. For this reason alone, the American people, religious or not, should maintain an active interest in reforming this critically important branch of our self-government. 

And That Prayer . . .

There’s a certain irony at the end of that ceremonial announcement by the Court’s Marshal, “God save these United States and this honorable Court!” Indeed. God save this . . . ahem. . .honorable court.”

And may God use each of us as conscientious citizens to call on the Justices themselves to reform their institution and Congress to assist them–cajole them, if necessary–to do so. Amen.


About Rev. Rob Schenck
Rob Schenck (pronounced "Shank") is an evangelical minister and former activist on the religious right who broke with his community over guns, abortion, same-sex relationships--and support for Donald Trump. He has spent his entire adult life as an evangelical, was educated in evangelical institutions, and has occupied influential posts in the church world. In his 2018 memoir, Costly Grace: An Evangelical Minister's Rediscovery of Faith, Hope and Love (HarperCollins), Rob explains his three conversions from nominal Judaism to a radical born-gain faith, then to "Ronald Reagan Republican Religion," and ultimately back to the virtues of the Sermon on the Mount with the posthumous help of martyred Nazi resister and Christian ethicist Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Rob recently testified before Congress about the efforts of Christian conservatives to unduly influence Supreme Court justices. You can read more about the author here.

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