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May. 11 2010 - 12:52 am | 666 views | 3 recommendations | 8 comments

No Protestants on the Supreme Court. So what?

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“America is a Christian nation!” That’s the familiar mantra of a vocal sect of the Republican party. You know, the one that would have no problem being led by Sarah Palin. The founding fathers were Protestants, they like to remind you. A little more than 50% of America still identifies as Protestant, they point out. But with the nomination, and (let’s not kid ourselves) almost certain confirmation of Elena Kagan, the highest court in the land will soon be devoid of a single Protestant member. The new tally will be 6 Catholics, 3 Jews, 0 Protestants, in case you are keeping score.

So what happened to the heirs of Martin Luther? Why have they been shut out? The Boston Globe has a theory.

“Evangelical Christianity has tended to be a populist religion that’s strongly democratic, in urging people to read the Bible themselves,” said Mark A. Noll, a history professor at the University of Notre Dame. “All these traits that have positive sides, but not for intellectual preparation and education.”

Protestants have a case of the stupids? Well, seems a little too simple, and the Globe does go on to note that Republican presidents have turned to Catholic men for their near lock-step opposition to abortion. Democratic presidents, meanwhile love them lefty Jews, whatever their sex.

As the Supreme Court slowly emptied of Protestants over the years, Americans themselves have grown less and less religious. A full 16 percent of citizens in our country say they don’t practice any religion, a whole lot more than the 1.7 percent who say they are Jewish. So, it’s not only the Protestants who are getting the shaft in terms of proportional representation on the court. Atheists and non-believers should start demanding a justice of their own, too.


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  1. collapse expand

    Yea, where’s the non-religious justice? I demand representation!

    Seriously though, it’s impossible to get a completely balanced representation of all the different types of people in this country. We shouldn’t worry about issues of religion, gender, race, age, favorite color, or whatever. We shouldn’t even have to worry about political leaning, but we do.

  2. collapse expand

    Sometimes “Christian” is used as though it were both synonymous and coextensive with “Protestant.” There are six Christians on the Supreme Court, assuming Ms. Kagan is confirmed. A more accurate breakdown would be:
    Christian: 6
    Protestant: 0
    Catholic: 6
    Orthodox: 0
    Jewish: 3
    Other: 0

    Anyway, does this really matter, other than as one ( of many possible) index of diversity? I don’t think the job description of a Supreme Court justice includes representing a particular theological position.

    • collapse expand

      “Sometimes ‘Christian’ is used as though it were both synonymous and coextensive with ‘Protestant.’”

      And, in our know-nothing press, “Protestant” is treated as synonymous with “Evangelical Protestant.”

      Re “does this really matter,” well, most Americans are religious, and our democracy (according to theory, at least) is representative. So, I’d say yes, it matters. But I realize the fashionable answer is no.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Oh, yes, separation of church and state is so fashionable. Whenever will this silly fad pass so we can finally have the theocracy the Puritans all dreamed of?

        Show me an atheist or a Muslim on the bench and then we’ll talk. None of the people on the Supreme Court represent any of us–even those of you who attend services of the exact same denomination of a Justice–stop fooling yourselves.

        How many people get appointed to determine national policy for life outside of places like North Korea? Why do we do it here?

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          I take it this rant has something to do with my post?

          In a representative democracy, having a Supreme Court makeup that reflects the general population in certain regards–i.e., ethnicity, religiosity, income level, gender, age, etc.–would be a great thing. I think. Feel free to disagree, though, as you obviously do.

          If someone said something about Puritans and theocracies, and you’re responding to his or her post, then my apologies.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    I think the thing point raised in the Globe piece remains interesting: are the followers of some denominations more inherently suited to be jurists? If so, then what of atheists? Are Protestants too revisionist, and atheists that much more so, to be any good on the Supreme Court?

    • collapse expand

      “I think the thing point raised in the Globe piece remains interesting: are the followers of some denominations more inherently suited to be jurists?”

      And we would answer this, how? Based on what data? Professional magicians are also underrepresented on the Supreme Court, as are women, stand-up comics, and operatic tenors. So we can assume these groups are less suited to the Supreme Court than the gangs we get?

      And isn’t this assuming (against much evidence) that the justices we have were wisely chosen? Too many assumptions, too little data to compare.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  4. collapse expand


    Agreed. It’s simply something that got me thinking.

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