Protestants, not to worry
Q: 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?
Why are we asking if the religious composition of the United States Supreme Court should be more representative of America's religious traditions, now that it is likely that for the first time in its history, the Court is likely not to have one single Protestant on board?
There will be six Catholic and three Jewish justices, should Elena Kagan's nomination go through, and some people are nervous. Why?
This nation is surely changing. Up until recently, white Anglo Saxon Protestants have enjoyed the largest numbers and have occupied the highest seats of power and influence.
But the racial and religious composition of the United States is changing, and while Protestants might still be the largest religious denomination in this country, with the number of Hispanics growing as quickly as it is, that place of prominence is likely to change soon.
I don't remember any questions coming up over the years when the Court had all Protestant men (mostly white). There was no concern, apparently, that the composition of the Court was not representative of this nation in terms of gender and race.
Roman Catholic and Jewish people, along with African Americans and women, would be and could be fairly represented by these white men, or at least that seemed to be the assumption.
It is only now, when the reality of a new day is staring this nation in the face that the issue of "fair representation" is becoming an issue, and I would suppose it will become more of an issue as time goes on. There is something very unsettling about feeling that your sitz en leben is not being lifted up, recognized, or respected.
I would suppose that the six Roman Catholics and three Jewish justices will make their decisions based on how they interpret the law, and yes, I would suppose that their interpretation of the law might be at least a bit tinged by their religious beliefs.
But then, weren't the Protestant justices influenced by their religious beliefs as well?
Protestants can be left or right leaning, but so can and so are, Roman Catholic and Jewish people as well. One's religion does not automatically define one's political position.
Interpretation of the law, no matter how one tries to deny it, is largely subjective. It has always been and always will be. And the subjectivity is as much defined by the era in which a given law is being interpreted (Revolutionary as opposed to Modern Day America), as well as by one's race, gender and religion.
In other words, there seemingly is no "one" correct definition of a given law. In the end, every justice depends on his or her intellect and education, but also on the values he or she has been taught.
What matters is that each justice is dedicated to the fairest interpretation of the law he or she can render. I am convinced that the new face of the nation's highest court will not insult the spirit of the laws they are being called to interpret, their religious affiliations notwithstanding.
Protestants made decisions for us all; the Jewish and Roman Catholic justices will do the same and the country will be all right, or maybe even better and stronger.
Susan K. Smith
May 10, 2010; 5:17 PM ET
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