Exclusive “TAV” Interview: Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht Talks About His Friend Harriet Miers; Abortion; God; The Bible; Judging; What Is “Law”; Oaths; And Much More
Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht has known Harriet Miers for more than 30 years. The following interview of Justice Hecht by “T.A.V.” Editor John Lofton took place by telephone on October 10, 2005.
JL: I appreciate you giving me some of your time before your 15 minutes of fame expire. But in your case it’s more like 15 hours. You’ve been everywhere, sometimes simultaneously I thought you’d become President when I went to all 3 the networks and you were on all three networks.
JH: Well, it’s been a busy time.
JL: I’m telling you. It’s a mixed blessing, no doubt. Well, let me get right to the point here — the point, at least for a lot of us who are very strongly pro-life and anti-abortion. Can you quote to me directly or paraphrase to me anything that Harriet Miers has said to you about abortion, or Roe v. Wade or any of the court decisions that have upheld abortion.
JH: I don’t recall that we’ve talked about Roe v. Wade, and on abortion itself I know she’s pro-life, and I can’t quote anything exactly. I mean there’s been just too many conversations over too many years. We’ve been to pro-life dinners together in Dallas, several times, and of course her church, where she’s been attending for 25 years, which is pro-life. So it’s not just something that you go around making quotes that are going to get repeated. It’s a lifetime of just consistent behavior.
JL: Sure, now when you say she’s pro-life do you mean that she’s opposed to all abortions no exceptions?
JH: I never have talked to her about that specific issue. I just know that she is pro-life.
JL: OK, does that mean she’s thinks of abortion as murder or sxome kind of illegal killing?
JH: She thinks it’s taking a life.
JL: Innocent human life.
JL: But you don’t know if she’s for exceptions or not?
JH: Don’t know.
JL: How about you, are you for exceptions?
JH: Well, I am for exceptions for the life of the mother. I think when you have two lives in the balance you got to make a decision.
JL: Rape and incest?
JH: I don’t know that I’ve ever — generally not.
JL: Well, the reason I ask is that news stories, whether they be radio, TV, newspapers they’re usually, well we know she’s pro-life because she goes to a pro-life church. Of course, we know and I assume you would agree with me, just because somebody goes to a church where pro-life is taught, doesn’t necessarily mean that every member of that church believes it right?
JL: Let me ask you
JH: Here, it’s a bit more than that. She tithes, I just can’t think she could go to a church for 25 years and put hundreds of thousands of dollars in the plate over all these years and not be comfortable with what they are teaching.
JL: Well, I would agree with you. That’s a plausible way of putting it. I’m sorry, did you say that she thought that abortion is taking innocent life, and that it would be some kind of crime to take that life?
JH: Yeah, it would be wrong to take that life innocent life.
JL: Well, that’s true. And I don’t know of any crime committed by an unborn baby, right, do you?
JL: Just wanted to check. Now let me ask you about something else that I’ve heard recently, as a Christian, I’m an Orthodox Presbyterian. On several different shows, on several different interviews you said that for Miss Miers, she’s not going to let her religious views influence her decisions in actual cases, and if she did such a thing this would be wrong.
JL: For example, let’s stop there with my paraphrase, and then I’ll go to a number of quotes she said. How in the world could it be wrong to let your Christian faith influence your judging, I mean God is the ultimate judge, the ultimate law giver. How can a judge, of all people, divorce her faith from her works?
JH: Well, part of the works are in construing words on a page the Constitution, statutes of the United States, and it’s not in injecting your views into what those words should be. It’s reading the words and saying this is what they are. And so —
JH: So, when a believer, especially, takes an oath, and says I’m going to judge rightly in those cases, then it would be a violation of your oath to inject your own personal views into the cases. It’s kind of a, the example I have used a couple of times Justice Scalia wrote the opinion for the court in the flag burning cases. And the court ruled that burning the flag was expression and of course there was some reaction to that and some repercussions to change the Constitution and that may be ongoing. But the point is, I can’t imagine Justice Scalia out on a street corner somewhere burning a flag. But that’s not the issue. The question is not what he thinks about it, the question is, “What does the Constitution say?”
JH: And, so, believers are going to try, when they are in Judges positions, are going to answer the question by saying what does the Constitution say, what does the law say, and not bend it to fit their own personal views.
JL: Well let me tell you the way I reason on this question, and then you tell me to the extent to which you share it. It’s interesting to say that she takes an oath, which means she swears to God.
JH: So help you God, it says
JL: So help me God. The oath itself is an expression of her religious views. She wouldn’t take a false and presumably she would not break a promise to God.
JL: Now, if you and I and Harriet Miers all believe that God’s law is the highest law — do we agree that God’s law is higher than man’s law?
JH: Well, frankly, I have not talked to her about that. I think, generally, that she thinks God’s law is higher than man’s law.
JL: Then all three of us agree. So, when she looks at a case, when you look at a case that is an attempt to legalize “the killing of innocent people” and in this case the unborn, we would say, “No! I don’t believe that, because that violates God’s law.” In other words, we believe that man’s law that violates God’s law is no law. Is it not?
JH: It’s different. I have to quibble with you a little here, because you might believe that but you’re still being asked to decide what man’s law has to say about it.
JH: You remember the story about Jesus who was asked to decide between two brothers, what their inheritance should be.
JH: And he said, I’m not the judge of those kind of things. You’ve got to go see the magistrate and get him to decide.
JL: That’s right.
JH: So some times, most of the time, judges are being asked to decide questions about constitutions and statutes and contracts and different things which are things that magistrate would have been doing in Jesus’ case.
JL: Well, you obviously have familiarity in Scripture. Romans 13 tells us that the precise role of the magistrate is to administer God’s law. Right?
JL: We agree on that, and I think what I’m getting at is when you and I and Harriet Miers believe that there is a higher law and when that law is God’s law and as some people say, we “inject” that into the law, or the courtroom, that’s not our opinion, Justice Hecht. We’re not injecting our opinion. We’re bringing God’s law to bear on man’s law. So I think one of the things that really agitates me is when Christians say something that God says and someone says that’s just our personal opinion. No it’s not!
JH: And they are still matters of faith. I mean we have to take these things on faith.
JH: But it becomes a part of who you are, there’s no question about that.
JL: The reason I’m so hot on this is, this particular issue well, I was kind of warm, even before I read a book recently which was about Hitler and Nazi Germany and what happened to the judiciary. [The book is “Hitler’s Justice: The Courts Of The Third Reich” published by Harvard University Press in 1991.] It’s written by a man by the name of Ingo Muller, in German originally and it’s been translated here. And what was so exasperating about it, was that this man who exhaustively researched this found one middle level judge, Lothar Kreyssig, a devout Lutheran, who stood up to Hitler and “his laws” that were NOT laws, and said, “No, I will not enforce them because they contradict God’s law. In other words he did not say, “Well, I just put my religion aside, read the text of the law, and decide.” He didn’t say that at all, and to me it was astounding that just one middle level judge stood on God’s law and opposed Hitler’s law. I’m just saying that as a Christian judge you can’t park your religion at the door. That’s ridiculous! your faith is your life.
JH: Well, it certainly is and it’s a very important part of your life and that’s why I have such admiration for Harriet because it’s been such a consistent and strong part of her life.
JL: Let me get to another one of those particular quotes [of yours]. On the CBS “Early Show”, October 6, you were asked about how Harriet Miers’ Christian faith has shaped her views and possibly those she would face on the Supreme Court and you said this, “Well, (referring to the way her faith shapes the kind of person that she is,) it doesn’t shape her view on cases. In fact almost the opposite is true. Someone who is very committed to their faith is also going to be committed to the oath that they take as a judge and is not going to is going to judge cases fairly and is not going to let personal or religious views or any other kinds influence the decisions in actual cases.” And at the risk of, I almost said appearing to be repetitious, but I guess I am being repetitious. We who are pro life, you, Harriet Miers, myself, if we were all judges one of us is a judge you, she may be, me I don’t think I’m going to be. When we looked at the abortion question, we all start with God’s law. Why it’s wrong, we would start with that standard of God’s law, by which we would then measure all of man’s law, wouldn’t we?
JH: Well, no, I think you start with the Constitution. That’s what you’re being called upon to decide.You have to consider what it is you’re being asked, and if the question being asked is what does the Constitution say, not what it should say, and so a good judge starts there with what does it say.
JL: Well, I assume you see nothing in the Constitution that makes the killing of unborn children that gives someone the right to do that?
JH: No, I think that the Constitution speaks to that issue in a very limited way and if and only if it’s been construed by the courts.
JL: Sure, do you know if Harriet Miers sees it as a Constitutional right a privacy right, that would allow abortion? Does she believe that?
JH: We’ve just never talked about it.
JL: You know, George Bush said he’s known her all these years “Gosh, we just never talked about it.” Now I’m talking to you, you’ve known her three times as long, as George Bush, and you just can’t ever remember talking about it. How could that be?
JH: Well, I remember well, it’s not just something that people sit around, people that have been good friends for thirty years it’s not something that you just sit around, the dinner conversation you talk about the day, the lives of the people that you’ve intersected all day long, and those kinds of things.
JL: Fair enough.
JH: Again, the President is a very busy fella and he was when he was governor, and there are lots of hard issues that he needs good advice on, and he tries to get that from Harriet. But I just don’t have a very good picture of him putting up his feet and saying, “All right, Harriet, what do you think about this?”
JL: Well, I’m glad you put it that way, because I was going to ask you to help me understand something. And I’m not being disingenuous about it, because I really don’t understand it.
JL: Here we have a President, says he’s pro-life, for a culture of life, he’s a compassionate conservative, but hey, I don’t ask judges where they are on this question on killing the innocent unborn I don’t “inject” that into a nomination, I don’t have that as a litmus test I couldn’t imagine anything more important, sir, for a judge to have as a litmus test, than to say to a judge, “Hey, what are the circumstance where you think that a human life should be snuffed out?” Why in the world is that not a litmus test? Do you understand that?
JH: Yea, well, to help you understand - I think you can see from this confirmation process, itself, that when litmus tests are imposed, they are going to be so disfavored that, um, it would be very difficult and maybe impossible well, probably impossible, to confirm somebody who’s been given some litmus test.
JL: Well, let me say something about that. You might be right, but may be right, but so what! Are there not some fights worth losing?
JH: Well, you’ve got to put somebody on the Supreme Court.
JL: Yea, but, seriously, we’re talking about a true life and death situation or the murder, or what some people call the illegal killing of innocent unborn children, millions of them and a lot of folks are running scared about it - “Oh, if I made that a test, or went on the record publicly you know, we might not get our nominee” but it’s not a rhetorical question. I assume you believe there are some fights worth waging even if we lose.
JH: Absolutely. But, in the end, the object is to get a judge confirmed.
JL: Well, maybe that’s where we disagree. The end, for pro-lifers is to get judges on the bench who respect innocent, human life, who do not want to see it taken and who want to overturn all these pro-abortion court decisions which, by the way aren’t law. I hope you don’t believe that a court decision is law. You don’t believe that, do you?
JH: Yeah, that a court decision is law? Well, I sit on a court. Yes, I do.
JL: Well, we talked about the Constitution a minute ago, the only branch vested with the power to enact law is the Congress, sir.
JH: Well, but I mean we decide cases all the time that have the force of law.
JL: I don’t think they do. They’re opinions they’re decisions, they’re not law.
JH: Well, perhaps we disagree about that.
JL: Well, I hope we don’t disagree about Congress being the only branch of government vested with the power to enact laws, cause that’s what the Constitution says.
JH: Oh, no, we don’t disagree about that.
JL: But, a lot of people think that court rulings are laws. We’re appalled constantly on our radio show by those who say, “Oh, you have to obey that court ruling or this court ruling it’s the law.” Well, no it’s not.
JH: Well, I think you have to obey court rulings.
JL: How do you decide when to disobey one.
JH: Well, you know, that’s hard. And people have had to face that over the years. You mentioned the Nazi Regime. Very difficult days. And of course, there’ve been other times through history. We are here where we are because we disobeyed English Law, back a long time ago. So it’s hard to know..
JL: Yeah, sure. Well that’s and if I might say as Christians we have an easy answer. It may not always be easy to apply it, but we have an easy answer. And the answer is, we disobey man’s law when it contradicts God’s law. We disobey man’s court decisions and court rulings when they contradict God’s law. It’s simple isn’t it? — in theory. It may be hard to apply. We have a ready answer: “We are to obey God, rather than men.”
JH: Well, that’s certainly what the Bible says.
JL: Well, I snuck that in on you, but you spotted it. Let me say one more quote here on the NBC “Nightly News,” you said this, “If Harriet Miers is as sincerely religious, as she says she is, then it would be a violation of all those principles to let them dictate how she’s going to rule in a case.” Now that one, I have to admit — how would it violate Christian beliefs to apply them to your judging? I don’t get that one.
JH: Well, again, because judges are asked all the time to judge according to rules and laws that the people have had brought to them. And that’s the question before you and that’s what you are called upon to decide. So, we just do this all the time.
JL: Well, I would say for the Christian judge you have a different job. Your definition of what’s righteous and what’s just is different from the non-Christian judge who tends to stay within the four corners of the document. A Christian judge has a higher law and a higher standard. You wouldn’t disagree with that, would you?
JH: Yes, I would to some extent I would. You have a higher standard in your personal life, but when it comes to judging you’re to stick to the law.
JL: Well, let me repeat one more time when you read your Bible, or I read my Bible, or when Harriet reads her Bible, and we believe what God says, that is not our personal opinion, we are applying God’s law.
JH: Well, it’s still a matter of faith.
JL: Absolutely. A gift from God. Well, finally, you may be interested to know I interviewed Dr. Barry McCarty of the Valley View Christian Church in Dallas, where I believe you are still a member are you not?
JL: He told me, when I gave him a few of your quotes, that he was “disappointed” by your view and has to “disagree” with the view that Miss Miers or any other Christian who’s going to be a judge should not let their religious views influence their decisions and that it would be wrong if they did. When I asked if he had heard your quotes, Pastor McCarty said: “Yes, I was disappointed and would have to disagree with those comments.” And he added that he has consistently told all of the members of your church that “their Biblical beliefs have to touch all of their life.”
JH: Yeah, well I don’t disagree with Barry that it needs to touch all of your life. But judges are frequently asked to decide questions that have to do with completely totally other matters.
JL: Well, we keep sort of going in a circle, if I may say. There are no matters that have nothing to do with God. For us as Christians, there are no matters that are completely separate from God’s law and his standard. And when I asked Pastor McCarty if taught what he taught because he believed our Lord Jesus Christ is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, and He has all power in heaven and on earth, and there is nothing outside His jurisdiction or his governance?, he said “yes.”
JH: Well, that’s true.
JL: Well, God bless you and your family and your work, and God does bless us when we obey Him.
JH: Well, thank you, good bye.
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