Ambassador’s ceremony draws an eclectic crowd

A Supreme Court justice, an actor and a Catholic university president walk into the State Department…..

… and formalize the swearing in of their mutual friend, constitutional lawyer Douglas Kmiec, as ambassador to Malta.

What sounds like the opening to a stand-up routine was instead the scene in the Treaty Room at the State Department Sept. 2, a case of someone with a broad, diverse base of friends and colleagues if ever there was one.

Justice Samuel Alito, who worked with Kmiec at the Justice Department in the 1980s and is one of the six Catholics on the U.S. Supreme Court; actor Martin Sheen, who is a fellow parishioner at Kmiec’s Catholic parish in California, and Vincentian Father David O’Connell, president of The Catholic University of America, where Kmiec was dean of the law school from 2001 to 2003, each had a role in the brief ceremony.

Kmiec, who is on hiatus as a columnist for Catholic News Service, holds an endowed chair in constitutional law at Pepperdine University School of Law, and previously was director of the University of Notre Dame’s Center on Law & Government, and the founder of its Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy.  As a lifelong Republican who helped write the Reagan administration’s legal arguments to the Supreme Court for overturning Roe v. Wade,  Kmiec stunned some of his friends and former allies with his support for Barack Obama in the 2008 campaign.

An article Kmiec wrote headlined “Reaganites for Obama” caught the eye of  Joshua DuBois, then Obama’s campaign director of religious outreach and now  director of the White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

“Are you for real?” Kmiec recalled being asked by DuBois in their first conversation. “Many people have asked that since then.”

Not long after Kmiec’s support for Obama became public, he was denied Communion on that basis at a Mass before he addressed a Catholic business group in California.  The priest, who was never identified, later apologized.

Kmiec went on to serve as a member of the campaign’s Catholic advisory group and wrote a book “Can a Catholic Support Him: Asking the Big Question about Barack Obama.” From his ambassadorial post, he will continue to serve the administration informally as an adviser on interfaith dialogue and cooperation.

DuBois noted that role would be especially appropriate from Malta, a historical crossroads of Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

Father O’Connell offered an invocation, Sheen led the Pledge of Allegiance and Alito administered the oath of office.

Afterward, Kmiec, Alito and Sheen each warmly greeted guests, many of whom asked to pose for photos with the ambassador, the  justice and the actor, who played President Jed Bartlett for seven seasons of the White House-based drama, “The West Wing.”

Despite political activism on a range of issues and his history as a “president” who Kmiec noted “didn’t raise anyone’s taxes and expanded everyone’s budgets,” Sheen said it was his first visit to the State Department.

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