Politics Foreign Affairs Culture

Hawley: GOP Shafted Religious Right

From ashes of Bostock decision, a truly populist Republican Party is being born
Screen Shot 2020-06-16 at 5.56.18 PM

Sen. Josh Hawley gave what I think will be remembered as a landmark speech today on the Senate floor, about the Bostock decision. Here are excerpts:

I have to say I agree with the news reports that have said that this is truly a seismic decision. It is truly a historic decision.

It is truly a historic piece of legislation.

This piece of legislation changes the scope of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It changes the meaning of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It changes the text of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In fact, you might well argue it is one of the most significant and far reaching updates to that historic piece of legislation since it was adopted all of those years ago.

Make no mistake: this decision, this piece of legislation, will have effects that range from employment law to sports to churches. There’s only one problem with this piece of legislation: it was issued by a court, not by a legislature.


This decision, and the majority who wrote it, represents the end of something. It represents the end of the conservative legal movement, or the conservative legal project, as we know it. After Bostock, that effort, as it has existed up to now, is over. I say this because if textualism and originalism give you this decision, if you can invoke textualism and originalism in order to reach such a decision—an outcome that fundamentally changes the scope and meaning and application of statutory law—then textualism and originalism and all of those phrases don’t mean much at all.

And if those are the things that we’ve been fighting for—it’s what I thought we had been fighting for, those of us who call ourselves legal conservatives—if we’ve been fighting for originalism and textualism, and this is the result of that, then I have to say it turns out we haven’t been fighting for very much.

Or maybe we’ve been fighting for quite a lot, but it’s been exactly the opposite of what we thought we were fighting for.


The legal conservative project has always depended on one group of people in particular in order to carry the weight of the votes to actually support this out in public, to get out there and make it possible electorally. And those are religious conservatives. I am one myself. Evangelicals, conservative Catholics, conservative Jews: let’s be honest, they’re the ones who have been the core of the legal conservative effort.

You sitting down? You’d better be. Hawley lets loose straight fire:

If this case makes anything clear, it is that the bargain that has been offered to religious conservatives for years now is a bad one. It’s time to reject it.

The bargain has never been explicitly articulated, but religious conservatives know what it is. The bargain is that you go along with the party establishment, you support their policies and priorities—or at least keep your mouth shut about it—and, in return, the establishment will put some judges on the bench who supposedly will protect your constitutional rights to freedom of worship, to freedom of exercise. That’s what we’ve been told for years now.

We were told that we’re supposed to shut up while the party establishment focuses more on cutting taxes and handing out favors for corporations, multinational corporations who don’t share our values, who will not stand up for American principles, who were only too happy to ship American jobs overseas. But we’re supposed to say nothing about that. We’re supposed to keep our mouths shut because maybe we’ll get a judge out of the deal. That was the implicit bargain.

We’re supposed to keep our mouths shut while the party establishment opens borders, while the party establishment pursues ruinous trade policies.

We’re supposed to keep our mouths shut while those at the upper end of the income bracket get all of the attention. While working families and college students and those who don’t want to go to college but can’t get a good job, while they get what? What attention?

Workers? Children? What about parents looking for help with the cost of raising children? Looking for help with the culture in which they have to raise children? Looking for help with the communities, rebuilding the communities in which they must carry out their family life?

What about college students trying to find an education that isn’t ruinously expensive and then figure out some way to pay back that enormous debt? What about those who don’t have a college degree and don’t want one, but would like to get a good job? What about them?

No, we’re supposed to stay quiet about all of that, and more, because there may be pro-Constitution, religious liberty judges. Except for that there aren’t. Except for that these judges don’t follow the Constitution. Except for these judges invoke “textualism” and “originalism” in order to reach their preferred outcome.

Sen. Hawley, himself a lawyer and former Attorney General of Missouri, says now is not the time for religious conservatives to sit down and shut up, but just the opposite. Read it all. Or, watch it on YouTube.

This is a game-changing speech. This speech is a call for religious conservatives to break away from the old way of doing political business — and, I hope, from the old leadership that has gotten very fat and happy networking with the GOP establishment over the years.

Notice how Hawley does not simply talk about social issues, but ties the de facto social liberalism of the GOP political and legal establishment to its willingness to deliver for big corporations and wealthy donors. A number of ordinary Christian conservatives have been voting for a long, long time against their economic values and class interests because our religious and moral values really do mean more to us than wealth. Some leftist commentators have laughed at us as suckers being taken for a ride by Republicans, and have done so in large part because they think that economics ought to matter more to us than social values. I’m actually proud to place standing up for the lives of the unborn, for the traditional family, and for religious liberty at the center of my politics, even when I’ve had to grit my teeth and vote for the party of Wall Street and foreign wars (not that the Democrats were a hell of a lot better on those issues, but they were better than the GOP).

I did it for judges. I did it because I can see plainly how powerful the judiciary has become. I could see that the US is becoming post-Christian, and that the kinds of things that I believe are increasingly held in contempt by cultural elites. In recent years, I’ve done it because I have believed that a conservative federal judiciary is going to be the last line of meaningful defense for social and religious conservatives, especially because politicians in the Republican Party are often too cowardly to stand and defend our beliefs and interests.

And now this.

What was it all for? All the trust we had in the Republican Party, and in the elite leadership of activist groups to deliver — what was it for?

For a conservative justice to rewrite the Constitution to declare that men are women and women are men, if they say so, and if you disagree, you are on the same moral and legal level as a racist?

No. It has to stop.

In this speech, Josh Hawley has made explicit the connections between class, culture, economics, and law in the Republican Party. This is heresy to the old guard. Good! Nail this speech to the doors of every Republican senator and political consultant, and every Christian Right lobbyist in Washington. Donald Trump ran on something like this, but he hasn’t known how to use power, and has not lived up to his potential. (A friend says, “He ran like Pat Buchanan, but he’s governed like Paul Ryan.”) But at least Trump fractured the foundation of the party. After this speech by Hawley today, I can see the Republican Party’s populist future becoming clearer. A day after the most depressing day for religious and social conservatives in a very long time, a day when the truth of who really matters in the Republican Party became painfully clear, it is a welcome surprise to be given some reason to hope.

UPDATE: Former president of the Southern Baptist Convention:



Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now