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Steve Bainbridge as Ambassador to the Holy See

My dear friend Steve Bainbrige has an exceptionally thoughtful and detailed post on legal and policy questions that have been raised about the prospects of Obama appointing  a US Ambassador to the Holy See. Bainbridge writes:

Now let’s disentangle two issues. First, is there anything constitutionally incongruous about the US having an ambassador to the Vatican? Second, as a matter of policy, is it a good idea?

The idea that diplomatic relations between the USA and the Holy See somehow violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment hardly deserves serious consideration. Indeed, courts have generally refused to even consider the issue. See, e.g., Phelps v. Reagan, 812 F.2d 1293 (10th Cir. 1987) (Taxpayer and Baptist minister brought action against President and Ambassador to Vatican seeking declaratory judgment that appointment of Ambassador violated establishment clause. The United States District Court for the District of Kansas, Richard Dean Rogers, J., dismissed action, and taxpayer appealed. The Court of Appeals, John P. Moore, Circuit Judge, held that: (1) taxpayer and minister did not have standing to challenge appropriations involved, and (2) question of whether to appoint Ambassador was vested solely in executive branch, and could not be reviewed by court.).

As a policy matter, the UN recognizes the Holy See as a state for purposes of international law, granting it Non-Member State Permanent Observer status. At present, ”the Holy See maintains full diplomatic relations with one-hundred seventy-four (174) countries out of the one-hundred ninety-two (192) member countries of the UN.” For the US to ignore the state staus of the Holy See in international law and relations thus would put us in opposition to virtually the entire world.

Bainbridge’s bottom line:

There simply is no sound policy or legal basis for the US not to have diplomatic relations with the Holy See.

I agree.

So who would be the best person for the post?  Harvard Professor Mary Ann Glendon currently holds this post. Some have suggested Pepperdine law professor and former Catholic University Law Dean, Doug Kmiec, for this position.

But what about Steve Bainbridge himself?

(OK– in the interest of full disclosure, I need to note that Steve and I have been friends since 7th grade and the we were roommates when he was a graduate student and law student at the Unviersity of Virginia.)

But think about it– Steve is a brilliant scholar and teacher, an astute commentator on international politics, and a person of integrity. He is the son of a Baptist Minster who was an Army Chaplain, retiring at the rank of colonel. And he is a convert to Catholicism. I note this last point because it indicates that he came to Catholicism not as an accident of birth, but because he made a conscious decision after much thoughtful and prayerful consideration of Catholic doctrine.

I know that Steve was not an Obama supporter and doesn’t support a good many of Obama’s policies, but I think that his understanding of Catholicism, his deep knowledge of history,  and his intelligent appreciation of international affairs would make him ideal for this position.

(Of course, Steve might want to shoot me for this suggestion, but I truly think he would be perfect!)

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.