Catholic attorney Leon Holmes did not expect his nomination to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas would hinge on what he co-wrote for a "church newspaper" six years ago.
"I was surprised. I was, yes," he said in an interview with the Arkansas Catholic, Little Rock diocesan newspaper.
Holmes submitted samples of his published writings to the Senate Judiciary Committee after his January 2003 nomination to the federal appeals court. Among the samples was a column by him and his wife, Susan, that appeared in the Arkansas Catholic in 1997.
Susan Holmes, who had conducted a Bible study about using gender-neutral language in Scripture, was the primary writer of the article titled "Gender-Neutral Language: Destroying an Essential Element of Our Faith," but Leon Holmes helped write portions of it and edited the piece.
In it, the Holmeses wrote, "The use of male and female to symbolize the relationship between Christ and the church is pervasive."
In 1997 the column was not controversial. "No one ever commented on it," Leon Holmes told the Arkansas Catholic. "There was never any feedback."
But in the spring of 2003, the column drew a lot of attention from U.S. senators and members of organizations working to keep abortion legal who felt Holmes did not support equality for women.
They only quoted two sentences from the column: "The wife is to subordinate herself to her husband" and "The woman is to place herself under the authority of the man."
From senators’ offices to law schools to ordinary citizens, calls came into the Arkansas Catholic office to get the full column.
Holmes’ other writings, specifically a letter to the editor in a Moline, Ill., newspaper in 1980, also drew anger. Holmes wrote, "The concern for rape victims is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami."
Attorney Leon Holmes
Looking back, Holmes said he regrets the letter’s tone.
"I have said there were things that were openly harsh and unduly strident," he said. "If I could go back and change some of those things, I would speak more softly."
In the end, opposition to Holmes’ appointment was based on his writings, most at least 15 years old, and his work to end abortion. Holmes has been active in the pro-life movement in Arkansas for more than 20 years and has given legal advice to many groups that are trying to reverse the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision.
It was the pro-life movement that drew Leon and Susan Holmes, members of the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock, to the Catholic Church in the early 1980s. The couple and their five children became Catholic at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Little Rock in 1989
So the message is that if you are a Catholic lawyer and might be a judge one day, never write anything especially if it uses phrases from the Bible or actually reflects some aspect of Catholic teaching.