by Bob Ritter for HumanistNetworkNews.org
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.