A Protestant-Less Supreme Court: Does it Matter?
Justice John Paul Stevens announced in April his upcoming retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court, prompting waves of speculation on whether the departure of the Court's only Protestant—six remaining justices are Catholic and two are Jewish—will matter. Few Protestants have landed on the shortlist to replace him.
"There should be no religious test for a Supreme Court nomination, but religious diversity is valuable because it may help the Court to understand sympathetically the worldviews held by various groups of Americans."
Mark Scarberry, professor of law, Pepperdine University
"Who we are affects how we view things. In a small group like the Supreme Court, all of a person's identity features will affect how that small group of people makes decisions. But it's not clear if religion will be a principal motivating force in someone's time on the Court. Data from the lower court level suggests identity as a member of the religious right can affect decision-making on a fairly narrow subset of issues—capital punishment, gender discrimination, and obscenity. But the Supreme Court is small, and ideology and judicial philosophy play a very big role in guiding decision-making."
Stacey Hunter Hecht, professor of political science, Bethel University
"No, it doesn't matter if he or she is a Protestant, but I'm a firm believer that the form-freedom balance we enjoy as Americans is uniquely the product of our Judeo-Christian heritage. Our freedoms are rooted in the notion that we are created in God's image."
Ken Connor, chairman, Center for a Just Society
"I don't think it will affect the work of the Court. Those issues concern conservative versus liberal jurisprudence. Protestant and Catholic conservatives share jurisprudential values; so do Protestant and Catholic liberals. It's more interesting for what it says about the roles of the different faiths now in these intellectual movements than for any effect on the actual work of the court."
Thomas Berg, professor, University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)
"It's far less significant or important that there be a Protestant on the Court or a Catholic or something else, just by the identity of their ecclesiastical connections. I also think it's not very important there be someone on the court who is old, young, black, white, bald or not. It comes down to judicial philosophy, and at that point the question will be how well-formed and how critically thoughtful will a justice be in dealing with the responsibility they have."
James Skillen, senior fellow, Center for Public Justice
"Among Protestants you have everyone from the Calvinist who would hope all of culture including the law could be a theater for the glory of God to, on the complete opposite end, traditional Baptists who want a high wall of separation that would leave the garden of the Church alone. All of these people, and everybody in between, are Protestant. So just to have a Protestant on the court by itself would not be helpful."
Robert Cochran, professor of law, Pepperdine University School of Law
"The category of Protestant is so large that it's really not a meaningful barometer of judicial philosophy, just as the word Catholic is so large that it's not a barometer. Judicial philosophy is what's most significant. It's much more helpful to know whether a candidate for the Supreme Court believes the Constitution should be interpreted as it was written, or whether new meaning can be ascribed to the existing Constitution."
Tom Minnery, senior vice president, CitizenLink (formerly Focus on the Family Action)