Richard Conway Casey


After nearly 40 years as a lawyer, Richard Conway Casey (1933-2006) was sworn in as a judge of the U.S. district court in Manhattan in 1977.

Richard Conway Casey

Following Holy Cross and Georgetown, he had been a soldier and a legal investigator for the New York County district attorney’s office and an assistant U.S. attorney, specializing in public corruption cases. When the Catholic lawyers of New York dedicated a shrine to St. Thomas More in my church, he was there with his guide dog, Barney. The retinitis pigmentosa, which had been diagnosed in 1964, led to complete blindness in 1987.

“When I became blind, I didn’t know a single individual who was blind. I didn’t know if you just sat there and waited to die, or what you did. You’re facing life and what appears to be a grim future. The one thing you have is faith.” His confirmation as the first blind federal trial judge in the nation followed a challenge in the Senate hearing. He reminded the Judiciary Committee that if justice is blind, a blind judge would not be at a disadvantage. There were problems physical, if not philosophical: On his first day on the bench, he walked into a wall. Eventually he mastered an optic scanner with synthetic voice, learned how to ski, and taught blind children the sport.

His confirmation as the first blind federal trial judge in the nation followed a challenge in the Senate hearing. He reminded the Judiciary Committee that if justice is blind, a blind judge would not be at a disadvantage.

In 2004 he agonized over a decision on a technical point to rule against the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, but his questioning of witnesses over 16 days was as monumental as any obiter dictum at the Nuremburg trials. In redirect examination of one abortionist, he challenged euphemisms such as “decompression of the skull” and “reducing the contents of the skull.” He asked if a fetus feels pain. When the doctor replied that it never crossed his mind, the judge asked, “Never?” and gave the nation opportunity to hear the cold reply: “No.” He recalled how the abortionists did not “tell the women in simple language that what you’re doing is tearing the arms and legs off the body.” Constitutional restraints did not prevent his declaration that partial-birth abortion is “a gruesome, brutal, barbaric and uncivilized medical procedure.” The final judgment was a Pyrrhic victory for the technicians, for judicial history will remember their silence in the courtroom when Casey asked what they would tell a mother to do if they knew her unborn child would be blind.

At one banquet of the Order of Malta, which he served as president of the American Order, he introduced from memory the 20 or so guests assembled on the dais. My last time seated with him was at a right-to-life dinner when my only help to him was to tell him that the vegetable on his plate was at three o’clock and the meat was a quarter to twelve. But at his wake I was asked to read one of his order’s prayers, with some of his fellow knights and his dog Barney guarding his coffin. Afterward, a gentleman expressed to me his sense that the prayer’s reference to “enemies of religion” was archaic in our tolerant society. That refined ignorance was not unfamiliar to Richard Casey, nor was it unknown to his patron Thomas More, and it was the ground of their mutual humor and sorrow.

In 1999, Pope John Paul II received him when he was awarded the Blessed Hyacinthe Cormier Medal at the Angelicum University for “outstanding leadership in the promotion of Gospel Values in the field of justice and ethics.” He remembered going to Lourdes when he went blind and being led to the grave of an atheist Italian girl who had been brought against her wishes to the shrine for a cure. She remained blind in eye, but transfigured in spirit. As an old lady she had asked to be buried near the spot where the Lady had appeared to Bernadette. The epitaph read to him was: “What is important is not to see but to understand.”



Rev. George W. Rutler. "Richard Conway Casey." Crisis (June 2007).

This article is reprinted with permission from the Morley Institute a non-profit education organization. To subscribe to Crisis magazine call 1-800-852-9962.

This article appeared first as one of the "Cloud of Witnesses" columns Father Rutler wrote for Crisis. It is included in his book, Cloud of Witnesses - Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive.


Father Rutler received priestly ordination in 1981. Born in 1945 and reared in the Episcopal tradition, Father Rutler was an Episcopal priest for nine years. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1979 and was sent to the North American College in Rome for seminary studies. Father Rutler graduated from Dartmouth, where he was a Rufus Choate Scholar, and took advanced degrees at the Johns Hopkins University and the General Theological Seminary. He holds several degrees from the Gregorian and Angelicum Universities in Rome, including the Pontifical Doctorate in Sacred Theology, and studied at the Institut Catholique in Paris. In England, in 1988, the University of Oxford awarded him the degree Master of Studies. From 1987 to 1989 he was regular preacher to the students, faculty, and townspeople of Oxford. Cardinal Egan appointed him Pastor of the Church of Our Saviour, effective September 17, 2001.

Since 1988 his weekly television program has been broadcast worldwide on EWTN. Father Rutler has published 17 books, including: Cloud of Witnesses - Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive, Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, A Crisis of Saints: Essays on People and Principles, Brightest and Best, Saint John Vianney: The Cure D'Ars Today, Crisis in Culture, and Adam Danced: The Cross and the Seven Deadly Sins.

Copyright © 2007 Father George W. Rutler

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