Saddleback Forum Meets Its Purpose

By Jay Sekulow

I want to make a couple observations concerning Barry's recent post on the Saddleback Forum. First, the concern that I had regarding the content of the questioning was certainly alleviated during the presentation. Throughout the two-hour Saddleback Forum, we learned more about the candidates and their worldviews than in all the previous debates combined.

Obviously, Barry disagrees with my analysis regarding the nature of the question posed by Pastor Warren concerning the Supreme Court. I thought the question--"Which sitting Supreme Court Justice would you not have nominated to the Supreme Court?"--was well thought-out and required a serious response from the candidates.

I thought Sen. Obama's comments regarding Justice Clarence Thomas were both unfair and unwarranted. I've linked to the audio clip of the question posed by Pastor Warren and Sen. Obama's response here . It is one thing to state that you would not nominate a particular judge to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States--or for that matter, a lower court--based on a disagreement with judicial philosophy. Judicial philosophy matters. That is why Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution states, "the President . . . shall nominate, and, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint . . . judges of the Supreme Court." If Sen. Obama would have responded to the question concerning judicial appointments by stating that he would not have nominated Clarence Thomas due to a fundamental disagreement with his judicial philosophy, that would have been fine. But as you listen to the answer, please note that Sen. Obama draws an intellectual capacity comparison between Justice Thomas and Justice Scalia. While he disagrees with both Justices' judicial philosophy, he concedes that Justice Scalia is smart--noting that both he and Justice Scalia taught at the University of Chicago Law School. In contrast, Sen. Obama feels that Justice Thomas was not up to the task when he was appointed. I thought that was unnecessary and a cheap shot.

When Sen. McCain was asked the same question, he said that he would not nominate Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Souter, or Stevens--not because of intellectual capacity but because of judicial philosophy.

Contrast this with Sen. Obama's statement regarding Chief Justice Roberts. When John Roberts' nomination came before the U.S. Senate, Sen. Obama voted against his confirmation. He did not question John Roberts' intellectual capacity as he did with Clarence Thomas, but he had suspicions concerning his judicial philosophy. Sen. Obama stated in his response that those suspicions became true because of the nature of John Roberts' decisions concerning presidential authority. I was pleased that Pastor Warren addressed this question and did so in a unique, respectful, and creative manner.

Barry, at the onset of your most recent post, you write that Barack Obama should not have accepted the invitation. I completely disagree. This was a civil dialogue that addressed some of the most significant issues facing America today. The candidates were given an opportunity to address these questions and explain their answers fully. The problem, I suspect, Barry, is that knowing the audience who was watching this forum, you did not like Barack Obama's answers. But as I mentioned, whether you agree with Barack Obama's answers or not, you now know where the nominees stand on critical issues including the issue of judges. These two nominees have two very different views concerning judicial philosophy, and that became clear in this forum.

On the issue of abortion, Sen. Obama stated that it was a complex "moral" and "theological" issue. I've linked the abortion-related question and answer of Sen. Obama here . He then stated that he was pro-choice and agreed with the decision in Roe v. Wade. He noted that he does want to see a decrease in the number of abortions and mentioned that he included language to this effect in the Democratic National Committee's proposed platform. Sen. Obama also stated that the number of abortions have increased over the last seven years. This is factually incorrect. The most recent survey conducted by the Alan Guttmacher Institute found declines in the total number of abortions.

In addition, Sen. Obama said that answering the question of when life begins is "above my pay grade," an odd response given the fact that the next President will likely nominate numerous federal judges - including Supreme Court Justices - who will weigh in on a variety of abortion issues. The next President may also have the opportunity to support or veto proposed legislation that would repeal the federal ban on partial-birth abortion. Of course, this was a sharp contrast to Sen. McCain's response concerning the issue of when life begins. Sen. McCain noted that an unborn child is entitled to human rights "at the moment of conception" and went on to point out his voting record on abortion-related legislation.

Rick Warren asked the right question concerning abortion: When does life begin? When, for the purposes of constitutional protection, is personhood established? This is the critical question in the abortion debate, and I'm glad that issue was fully discussed at the forum.

I firmly believe that this forum provided a unique and in-depth look at the candidates' positions and philosophies on governance. The forum at Saddleback met its purpose and provided information about issues not covered in other debates.