If Elena Kagan is confirmed to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, the Supreme Court would for the first time in its history be without a justice belonging to America's largest religious affiliations -- the Protestant traditions. If Kagan is confirmed, six of the justices will be Roman Catholic and three will be Jewish. Should the Supreme Court be more representative of America's religious traditions? Does religion matter in the mix of experience and expertise that a president seeks in a Supreme Court nominee?
Sally Quinn and Jon Meacham on May 10, 2010 10:27 AM
I've never met an evangelical kid who aspired to be a Supreme Court judge. I wonder whether our traditional emphasis on grace and mercy and admission to heaven rather than justice and law in this world now has contributed to this pattern.
It's fine to ask judicial nominees what role, if any, their religious or moral beliefs would play in their decision-making on the bench, and what they would do if they perceived a conflict between their religious or moral beliefs and a result dictated by the Constitution.
Elana Kagan's Jewishness should not have been a consideration in her appointment. However, should the absence of a Protestant turn into an extended condition of many years, it might well become an issue in American public life, creating distance between the public and the Court.
Posted by David Saperstein, on May 14, 2010 9:01 AM
The position that we should hold as religious people who also believe in the rule of law is that we expect and hope that those appointed to the Supreme Court will be brilliant lawyers and supremely fair minded, and that they will interpret the law, rather than push their own belief system to the disadvantage of any other.
Posted by Julia Neuberger, on May 14, 2010 8:18 AM
The death of the Protestant Establishment in the United States is nothing to mourn. They tried to beat ideas with power, but they failed as such people always do. In 2050 Evangelicals will be the "new" group that will appear on the Court.
Posted by John Mark Reynolds, on May 13, 2010 6:00 PM
Judges display moral and ethical rectitude and the ability to judge equitably. I am sure this can be done irrespective of whether they are Jews, Catholics or Protestants or, for that matter, Hindus, Muslims or Buddhists.
Using his own criteria, Obama could take a large step in the direction of diversity on the Court by nominating an Asian Hindu (Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world), a Buddhist, or someone from one of the other Asian religious traditions.
Personally, if a religious test for Supreme Court membership were not illegal, I would want membership restricted to devotees of "America's religious traditions." My preference would not be a matter of prejudice. Rather, my preference would be a matter of national identity, the particularity of the American civilization sustained by the American mind.
Posted by Willis E. Elliott, on May 11, 2010 8:23 PM
As a Protestant, I am proud that our nation's Protestant founders gave us the gift of separation of Church and State. Thanks to their wisdom, for a Supreme Court nominee, just as for our elected representatives, the question of religion ought not to be a question at all
With the confirmation of Elena Kagan as the newest Supreme Court Justice, the court will have no Protestants. It will also have no Muslims, Buddhists, or Atheists (at least no avowed ones). Fine. Justices are sworn to uphold the Constitution, not their personal religious beliefs.
Posted by Pamela K. Taylor, on May 11, 2010 1:39 PM
It is no accident that 91 of the 112 nominees to the Court have been Protestants. The fact that all of the seats on the Supreme Court may soon be filled by Roman Catholics and Jews is a fitting, if somewhat ironic, end to the religious tokenism of the past.
Posted by Charles C. Haynes, on May 11, 2010 11:35 AM
Perhaps we have begun to take seriously the "no religious test" principle in Article VI of the Constitution. In today's post-denominational religious milieu, other issues seem to eclipse religion as important characteristics -- gender, ethnicity, judicial experience and constitutional philosophy.
Posted by J. Brent Walker, on May 11, 2010 10:13 AM
Why is it that gender experience is relevant, but religious experience is not? Why is it that a court with which more American can identify in terms of gender is important, but one with which they can identify in terms of faith, is not? The issue should be brilliance, not balance.
Posted by Brad Hirschfield, on May 11, 2010 10:10 AM
Prophetic justice protects the rights and liberties of the unpopular, the misunderstood, the despised. Prophetic justice protects the rights of minorities and works to keep society's prejudices from holding back those who are talented and hard working but who happen to be the wrong color, sex, sexual orientation, ethnic heritage or class.
Posted by Valerie Elverton Dixon, on May 10, 2010 7:47 PM
There cannot be a religious test for office under our Constitution. But the kind of Protestant spirit that drove the "Founding Fathers" to disestablish religion (i.e. make it unconstitutional for states to financially support their favorite Protestant denomination) has a place in the mix, especially these days.
Posted by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, on May 10, 2010 5:59 PM
Kagan seems like a decent person and probably better on church-state separation than most sitting justices; however, Kagan is definitely not a Stevens, one of the finest United States Supreme Court champions for separating religion from government.
Religious correctness demands that we pretend it doesn't matter. But religious conviction does matter, as we have seen time and time again in Scalia's contention that American governmental power derives from God.
Although there is every likelihood that there will be a new Quaker judge at the Circuit Court level - and thus a future Supreme Court nominee of the Friendly persuasion - I really don't care if the High Court has "one of my kind" on it. I want the best and the brightest, people of integrity, folks who know their Constitution from a hole in the ground.
Never mind the profound differences in faith perspectives among the three Jews and six Roman Catholics in question. If a Supreme Court Justice puts the Constitution's mandates ahead of all other concerns, then she or he is doing the job, and the personal exercise of First Amendment rights should not matter.
In the best of all possible worlds, or even in worlds slightly better than the one we have, citizens would pay attention to the U. S. Constitution's rejection of religious tests for office. However, since "everyone else" is violating the Constitution, "everyone" plays the game of keeping score.
The "numbers game" counting Protestants, Catholics and Jews on the bench ought to be as unimportant as the number of blacks and women. It is the law that should be supreme and not a judge's religious faith.
Posted by Cal Thomas, on May 10, 2010 11:11 AM
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shu1: There would be no problem if individuals are by themselves. But in America, where ethnic politics is notorious, that implies that those indi...
johnturkal1: Being Catholic myself I must admit this controversal subject has crossed my mind more than once. As long as the Conservatives reflect the re...
troisieme: I would not care if there were no Protestants on the Supreme Court. What I find intriguing is the weird idea of Justice Scalia that our gove...