William Bentley Ball

William Bentley Ball was one of the nation's foremost Catholic constitutional lawyers. He died in 2000.

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Constitution Watch: The Oregon Trail

William Bentley Ball, the distinguished constitutional lawyer and Crisis contributor, passed away in Florida on January 10, 1999. Bill Ball was an extraordinary man—a lawyer of great skill and subtlety who argued many cases before the nation’s highest courts, a legal scholar of surpassing acuity, and a deeply humble Christian gentleman. At his funeral in … Read more

Constitution Watch: The Impeachment of America

‘‘Raising his voice [in the House of Commons] till the arches of Irish oak resounded, he spoke.” Thus does Macaulay begin his account of Edmund Burke’s celebrated speech in 1788, pressing for the impeachment of Warren Hastings. Burke had brought forth a mass of evidence of “high crimes and misdemeanors” by Hastings, Governor-General of India. … Read more

Constitution Watch: First Freedom

Nothing the Supreme Court held in its last term—including its ruling on the president’s frenetic maneuver to evade the law—was exceptional constitutionally. But for its new term, which opened October 5, the Court has before it Jackson v. Benson, in which the Court may review a challenge to the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s June 10 decision … Read more

Constitution Watch: Pornography in the Mainstream

“Negativism” has now become a dirty word, bruited about by liberals to discredit public figures whose utterances they despise. Among these figures are two who are famous for their negativism, William C. Donohue and Donald E. Wildmon. Dr. Donohue heads up the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights; Rev. Wildmon, the American Family Association. … Read more

Constitution Watch: Public Schools, 1—Disabled Children, 0

Consider the case of Rabbi Asher Bern and realize that his is a mirror image of myriad cases throughout the nation. Bern is a yeshiva teacher with a big family and very modest means. He has a young daughter, Golda, who suffers from spina bifida, a painful neurological disorder needing catheterization four times a day. … Read more

Constitution Watch: God and Sex at Yale

As we get deeper into the 1997-1998 term of the Supreme Court, we see a docket far less exciting than that of last term, when cases concerning assisted suicide, religious liberty, and state aid to children in religious schools riveted our attention. Some interesting cases have disappeared from the docket because the Court has declined … Read more

Breaking the Public School’s Monopoly

The National Education Association and other forces opposing a free market in education continue to attack school choice as though it were a mortal threat to the nation. A key argument they make is one that unfortunately is also embraced by some sincere and ardent conservatives. A good example is found in the article by … Read more

Constitution Watch: States and Subsidiarity

The case of Jones V. Bates, now filed in the U.S. Supreme Court, prods us once again to ponder the idea of states. By states, I mean those fifty American communities, in one of which we reside and among all of which we are free to roam. Their collective title is partly unum and partly … Read more

Constitution Watch: Restore Religious Freedom

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, you will recall, restored a rule of constitutional law that government may not penalize religion without proving that its doing so is the least restrictive means of achieving some supreme societal interest. The Supreme Court, on June 25, invalidated the RFRA. The death of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has … Read more

Constitution Watch: Suing for Dogma’s Sake

Crawling on his belly the full length of the main aisle was considered a proper, if minimal, means by which a dissident priest was made to achieve reconciliation with his Russian orthodox bishop. This was in the 1900s in the “coal region” of Pennsylvania, where fracturing disputes within “national” churches of particular ethnicities were then … Read more

Constitution Watch: The National Heartbeat

Two cases significant in terms of religious liberty now pend in the Supreme Court. The court’s decision in City of Boerne v. Flores will have a crucial effect on the religious freedom of all Americans since it involves the validity of Congress’s 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), on which San Antonio Archbishop Paul F. … Read more

Constitution Watch: Good News and Bad

Maureen Dowd, in a recent column in the New York Times described ours as “a world defined not as a battle between good and evil but a choice between skim or whole, caf or de, foam or no foam, carbonated or still, lemon or lime.” She might have added to her list of choices: straight … Read more

Constitution Watch: Taxing the Church

Chief Justice Marshall’s famous remark in 1819 that “the power to tax is the power to destroy” undoubtedly implies that the power to tax is also the power to do less than destroy. Coercion to modify conduct and coercion to limit one’s liberty of expression have always been familiar incidents of requirements to render unto … Read more

Constitution Watch: Outcome-Biased Education?

While Goals 2000’s effort to impose federal controls on local public schools may seem an instance of the blind trying to lead the blind, a recent event in Ohio is an example of the blind trying to lead the 20/20s. There a troubled public educational establishment has undertaken to impose on private schools in Ohio … Read more

Constitution Watch: Courting the Archbishop

These days public discussion of the American Constitution is all about “rights.” So the media pulsate with talk of civil rights, rights of speech, press, and religion, the right to bear arms and, lately, the right to beg alms. Parts of the Constitution not involving rights claim little popular attention. But on the horizon looms … Read more

Constitution Watch: First Monday Blues

Being “up” on public issues means, in an important way, knowing what the Supreme Court is doing with (or to) the American Constitution. October 2nd was “First Monday,” the traditional day of opening of the Court term (its 205th). Once again concerns arise: what cases, significant in terms of constitutional freedoms, will the Court be … Read more

First Amendment Watch: Another Gay Nineties

The unprecedented violence in the streets, murders by children, assisted suicide, various living arrangements in lieu of marriage, portrayals of sexual intercourse in popular media. In the midst of what they feel is impending chaos, Christians, Orthodox Jews, and many others struggle for a sense of peace. But the victory of mind over what’s the … Read more

Prayer in the Public Schools: Better Think Twice

When I admonished a group of pro-life picketers at a local abortion clinic that their big sign, “PRAY THE ROSARY TO END ABORTION!” was not a good idea, I found myself excoriated as a turncoat pro-lifer who despised the rosary. My only point had been that the place where they were making their display was … Read more

First Amendment Watch: Voltaire, Where Are You?

During the 1950s and ’60s when,   in the name of freedom of expression, our courts were busy voiding obscenity, national security, and other laws limiting freedom of expression, a saying of Voltaire was routinely invoked as an ethical standard to which we should all repair: “I disapprove of what you have to say, but I … Read more

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