We’ll probably hear a lot over the coming weeks about the U.S. Supreme Court becoming Protestant-less for the first time ever.
Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Obama’s nominee to replace John Paul Stevens, is Jewish. If she gets confirmed, the court will have six Catholic justices and three Jewish justices (although not all are religiously observant).
How important is it that the court won’t have a Protestant justice?
I guess it’s one of those “turning the page” moments, a solid reminder of the long, slow demise of mainline Protestant numbers and influence in this country.
Mainliners used to run the show, basically, dominating many American institutions. As we all know (at least those of us who follow this stuff), this hasn’t been the case for quite some time.
One might wonder if and when evangelical Christians — who make up at least a quarter of Americans — might replace mainliners on the top bench.
A CNN report notes:
Evangelical Protestant colleges, meanwhile — including Regent University and Liberty University, founded by Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell respectively — have had law schools only since the 1980s.
And law schools with Protestant roots, like Harvard and Yale, shed their religious identities a long time ago, part of the broader fading of a distinct mainline Protestant identity in the U.S..
Some legal and religious scholars say the dearth of qualified evangelical candidates for the Supreme Court came into sharp relief in 2005, when President George W. Bush nominated White House counsel Harriet Miers to the high court.
An evangelical Christian whom the White House promoted strenuously among evangelicals, Miers had her nomination brought down largely by conservatives — nonevangelicals, mostly — who said she was not qualified for the position.
I’m not sure if there have been “evangelical” justices in the past.
Several websites I found that compiled the religions of past justices list about a dozen who were believed to be only “Protestant.” Some of them could have been evangelicals, at least in terms of belief and practice.
It would surprise no one if Obama picked a mainline Protestant for the court. But you have to figure that it will be a Republic president who chooses the next evangelical justice.
And what about an atheist justice, an outright nonbeliever?
He or she would have to be chosen, one would think, by a Democratic president with really high poll numbers.
(AP Photo/Harvard University News Office, Stephanie Mitchell)