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)
"Does it matter for this particular appointee? I would say no. The question for this appointee, like all appointees, should be, 'Is the person nominated, qualified?' If the person is Catholic, Jewish, nominally Protestant, actually Protestant, or Muslim is relevant, but the key matter is to have a responsible jurist. [But] does it matter that the situation has come to this point? Yes, it does."
Mark Noll, professor of history, University of Notre Dame
"I do not think it matters what the religious affiliation of the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court are. What matters is their approach to interpreting the U.S. Constitution. In addition, religious affiliation is such a broad term that it often does not convey that much about an individual's relationship to religion, so even if religion were important, religious affiliation would not be the most important part of it, necessarily."
David Smolin, law professor, Samford University
"No, it doesn't matter that there are no Protestants. Symbolically, it suggests that the heyday of Protestantism in America is over, but I don't rightly think that's the case. The reason for it is that Protestantism itself has changed so dramatically over the past half-century, in that evangelicals have eclipsed mainline or liberal Protestants in the culture. We could once tap somebody like John Paul Stevens, who was at the time of his appointment a political moderate. Now, when a president thinks about appointing a Protestant to the Supreme Court, more than likely he's thinking about someone who is more evangelical than mainline. The problem for evangelical Protestants is they have not yet developed intellectual heft on legal matters."
Randall Balmer, professor of American religious history, Columbia University
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Previous Christianity Today articles related to Elena Kagan and the post-Protestant Supreme Court include:
Who is Elena Kagan? | Political activist groups don't know much about the Supreme Court nominee, but they still had plenty to say about her. (May 14, 2010)
Elena Kagan's Past Leaves Little Trail | President Obama's Supreme Court nomination has walked a political tightrope. (May 11, 2010)
6 Catholics, 3 Jews | Does it matter that there might soon be no Protestants on the Supreme Court? (May 11, 2010)
The Post-Protestant Supreme Court | Christians weigh in on whether it matters that the high court will likely lack Protestant representation. (May 9, 2010)
Time to Get Judicially Serious | Evangelicals and the possible Supreme Court Catholic majority. (January 1, 2006)
Previous topics for discussion included Mother's Day worship, incorporating churches, whether evangelicals are doing a good job at racial integration, whether Christians should leave the American Medical Association, the most significant change in Christianity over the past decade, whether the Supreme Court should rule that memorial crosses are secular, multisite campuses vs. church plants, and whether Christians should fast during Ramadan with Muslims.
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