Guest / Limited Access /

If Elena Kagan, President Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court, is confirmed, the nation's high court will be, for the first time in its history, devoid of Protestants. Kagan is Jewish, as are Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. All of the other justices—Chief Justice John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Sonia Sotomayor—are Catholic. How did this situation come about in a historically Protestant-dominated country? And should evangelicals be concerned?

It's important to note that the composition of the Supreme Court has never reflected the composition of the country. All justices were white until the appointment of Thurgood Marshall in 1967, and all justices were male until the appointment of Sandra Day O'Connor in 1981. When President Andrew Jackson appointed the court's first Catholic member, Roger Taney, in 1836, the Roman Catholic Church was already well on its way to becoming the country's largest single Christian body. Most justices have also shared connections to a small group of elite schools. Harvard Law School trained the highest number, 14 justices, including five members of the current court. (Justice Ginsburg attended HLS but graduated from Columbia.) Kagan, a graduate and former dean of HLS, would make a sixth.

Throughout the court's history, some groups—notably Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Unitarians, and Jews—have been significantly overrepresented in comparison to their prevalence in the American population, while other groups have been significantly underrepresented. Though Baptists constitute the country's largest Protestant group, there have been just three Baptist justices. The second-largest Protestant group, Methodists, ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Support Christian thought journalism. Donate to our nonprofit ministry today.
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Current IssueI Went From Fighting in a Cage to Living in a Hut
I Went From Fighting in a Cage to Living in a Hut
How an MMA fighter found Jesus—and discovered his calling in the Congo.
Current Issue
Subscriber Access Only Reply All
Responses to our November issue via letters, tweets, and Facebook posts.
Recommended‘Worst Year Yet’: The Top 50 Countries Where It’s Hardest to Be a Christian
‘Worst Year Yet’: The Top 50 Countries Where It’s Hardest to Be a Christian
Islamic extremism now has a rival, according to 2017 World Watch List.
TrendingCompassion Has 'Very Little Hope' for India, Sets Deadline to Shut Down Sponsorships
Compassion Has 'Very Little Hope' for India, Sets Deadline to Shut Down Sponsorships
About 145,000 children have already lost its assistance with food, education, and health care.
Editor's PickThe Church’s Integrity in the Trump Years
The Church’s Integrity in the Trump Years
It begins by recognizing the name above every name.
Christianity Today
6 Catholics, 3 Jews
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

May 2010

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.