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.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Religion
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. sam says:

    I know nothing of what you speak, er, write.

  2. legion says:

    We keep electing Protestant presidents. But, for whatever reason, they have been appointing Justices outside that faith.

    Gee, it’s almost as though some people believe that what religion a person does (or doesn’t) follow has nothing at all to do with what sort of human being they are. But that’s crazy talk….

  3. TangoMan says:

    Why aren’t liberals standing up for proportional identity representation on the Supreme Court like they do with gender and race?

    You know, the same problem is evident at Harvard. White, Mid-Western Gentiles are the least represented group, in relation to their proportion of the population, in the undergraduate study body.

    If identity politics is crucial to a world view, then engage in it fairly. What’s so hard about that?

  4. Dantheman says:

    ” 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.”

    Number of Justices appointed by Republicans in that period — 10.

    Number of Justices appointed by Democrats in that period — 0.

    And some people wonder why Jews vote Democratic by over 2 to 1.

  5. James Joyner says:

    And some people wonder why Jews vote Democratic by over 2 to 1.

    Wth the notable exception of Richard Nixon, who was anti-Semitic despite his closest and most trusted advisor being a Jew, I think you reverse causality. Much more likely explanation: Republicans tend not to appoint Jewish justices because most qualified Jews are Democrats.

    And a Republican appointed the first woman and the second black to the Court. It didn’t exactly pay off at the polls. Nor, really, should it have.

  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    TangoBrimelow:

    I’m glad to see you’ve come out of mourning after what happened to TerreBlanche. That mut have been a hard blow. The world is poorer by one white supremacist goon. Out of curiosity does that mean you move up one notch? Do you get to add an “uber” to your rank?

  7. just me says:

    My guess is that abortion is at the root of the predominance of Catholic appointees by GOP presidents-but I suspect it is more a factor of how they are seen on the issue than that they are actually Catholic.

  8. Dantheman says:

    James,

    “With the notable exception of Richard Nixon, who was anti-Semitic despite his closest and most trusted advisor being a Jew, I think you reverse causality. Much more likely explanation: Republicans tend not to appoint Jewish justices because most qualified Jews are Democrats.”

    Several points in response:

    1. George Bush the Elder was viewed in the Jewish community as the opposite of Nixon, personally not anti-Semitic, but with a closest advisor (Baker) who was if not actually anti-Semitic, then very close to the line.

    2. Given the level of outreach to Jews from the Republican Party, who always seem to think that this is _finally_ going to be the year that Jews vote based on which party is more in line with the views of the furthest to the right Israeli party, symbolic gestures like these are well-noted.

    3. While the majority of qualified Jews may have been Democrats, that would hardly have stopped the Republicans from finding a qualified Republican Jew to appoint (after all, they found Clarence Thomas, and Bush the Elder did claim that he was the most qualified for that seat).

  9. pylon says:

    This may shock you, but to non-Christians, the differences between Protestants and Catholics are pretty minor.

    Do your representation analysis again, but just go with Jews, Christians and “other”. How many “others”?

  10. Sandra says:

    Actually with the American version of Catholicism, most “cafeteria Catholics” do have more in common (their personal religious beliefs and practice) with Protestants than with their “practicing” co-religious.

    Such “shining examples” from the Kennedy family, and Madame Speaker Pelosi immediately come to mind.

  11. Highlander says:

    Well when you get right down to it, the Jewish population of the United States is only around 2%. So if we are doing politically correct proportional representation,then the Jews should be waiting a long time for their day in power.

    But quite the opposite is true. Right now, starting at the White House on down (except the Pentagon)plus Wall Street, MSM, Hollywood,and others,Jews are pretty much running the country. How could this be, when they only arrived in America in serious numbers in the last 100 years? They are quite a remarkable people.

  12. Ben says:

    YAWN. Wake me when someone shows real cajones and nominates an agnostic or even … :gasp: an ATHEIST. Both of which represent a hell of a lot more Americans than Judaism, Islam and any Christian denomination other than Protestants and Catholics. Where can I get some of that proportionality now?

  13. An Interested Party says:

    re: Sandra | April 8, 2010 | 09:36 am

    Cafeteria Catholicism goes both ways, as we look at American Catholics (especially most, if not all of the ones on the Supreme Court) who are in favor of the death penalty and just wars, as well as seemingly being opposed to social justice…