Supreme Court Without Protestants?
NPR’s Nina Totenberg points to an interesting historical anomaly:
With U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens talking openly about retirement, attention has focused on the “who” — as in who is on President Obama’s short list of potential nominees. But almost nobody has noticed that when Justice Stevens retires, it is entirely possible that there will be no Protestant justices on the court for the first time ever.
In fact, six of the nine justices on the current court are Roman Catholic. That’s half of the 12 Catholics who have ever served on the court. Only seven Jews have ever served, and two of them are there now. Depending on the Stevens replacement, there may be no Protestants left on the court at all in a majority Protestant nation where, for decades and generations, all of the justices were Protestant.
I don’t happen to care one way or the other. It’s not like the Court has ever been demographically representative. Why, 100 percent of them are lawyers!
Still, this is rather remarkable. Especially when we consider that it wasn’t all that long ago that the Justices were all Protestants.
The first Catholic to serve was Chief Justice Roger Taney, historically famous for writing the Dred Scott decision upholding slavery. After he left, no Catholic was appointed for 30 years. But by the early 20th century, the nation settled into a pattern in which there was one seat on the court occupied by a Catholic, and usually one by a Jew, beginning with Louis Brandeis in 1916. There was no Jewish justice, however, in the 24 years between 1969 and 1993.
We keep electing Protestant presidents. But, for whatever reason, they have been appointing Justices outside that faith.