by Bob Ritter for
May 19, 2010

President Obama's selection of Justice Sonia Sotomayor in 2009 as the sixth Catholic justice on the Supreme Court and his recent nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan as the third Jewish justice, replacing the retiring Justice John Paul Stevens (currently the Court's sole Protestant), has heightened our awareness of the religious affiliations of justices and raises the question: does a justice's religion matter?

Assuming that Kagan is confirmed this summer, the new Court will be comprised of 67% who self-identify as Catholics (Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Sotomayor) and 33% who self-identify as Jewish (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Kagan).

If for no other reason, this is worrisome on grounds of lack of diversity. In contrast to the Court's future composition, the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS 2008) found that 25% of Americans identify themselves as Catholic, 51% as other Christian, 2% as Jewish, 2% as other religions and 15% as no religion (with 5% not responding to the survey). Clearly, the Catholic and Jewish faiths will be very over-represented on the new Court, Protestant faiths very underrepresented and the "nones" will also be underrepresented.

But raising the diversity flag begs the question of whether a justice's religion matters.


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Replies to This Discussion

Absolutely, religion matters in the makeup of the Supreme Court. One's religious beliefs impact the ways judges make decisions in court. If a judge believes a lawyer must be white, or Roman Catholic, or anti-choice, their arguments impact the judge in a predictable way, to the detriment of non-white, non-Roman Catholic, pro-choice matters. The judgements on issues become pre-judged, thus prejudiced. The claim that the law decides cases is a fabrication often declared but potentially not followed. The Appeals Court already has judged based on their view of the law. So, where is the protection for the non-white, non-Roman Catholic, pro-choice person?
It matters if it informs that justice's understanding of the Constitution.
It matters to the general population in that if an Atheist or Muslim or Wiccan or Buddhist were nominated, it would be political suicide and doubtful the nominee would get confirmed.

It matters to we who live in reality if religion really does sway a decision. Can a Catholic, who has been raised from birth to believe abortion is against god's will, really shed that to be truly unbiased?

Finally, I personally have to wonder about the rational judgement of someone who genuinely believes in an invisible sky-monster/puppet-master to the exclusion of other people's sky-monster/puppet-masters.
Of course some of the greatest Liberals and progressives were Catholic or Jewish. Oddly enough Catholicism with all its ceremony, and endless repetition often turns out very non fundamental individuals. Many seem to play along because they are expected too. But when it comes to political decisions they have the ability to look outside the box.
What you say about Wiccan, Muslim etc is absolutely true. And atheist would be certain political death in this country.




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