Does America need Protestant Supreme Court justices?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010
By Frank Lockwood

Currently, there are 6 Catholics, 2 Jews and 1 Protestant serving on the nation’s highest court. But the lone Protestant, John Paul Stevens, turns 90 next month, and there is speculation that he may retire soon.

The Washington Post raises the possibility that there could soon be — for the first time in history — no Protestants on the court, and asks if that matters.

My take: American Christianity is no longer divided, primarily, between Protestants and Catholics. Today, the fault lines run between those who believe the Apostles Creed and those who do not, between those who believe that man is sinful and in need of a Savior, and those who don’t. The labels matter less than ever. The world view matters more.

Most evangelical leaders, I’m guessing, would rather see a Catholic like Scalia than a Protestant like Stevens.

No Responses to “Does America need Protestant Supreme Court justices?”

  1. Sophia Katt

    I would like to see a Wiccan, or maybe a Unitarian with leanings toward Hawaiian lomiloni theology. It would be as helpful as a straight Christian ticket has been so far the last decade.

  2. Caleb Powers

    We tend to forget that William Howard Taft, who was chief justice of the Supreme Court, and one of the more conservative, even in his era, was a Unitarian, though perhaps without Hawaiian tendencies. Of course, there is that famous photo of him riding a water buffalo when he was governor of the Phillipines, leading one wag to suggest that he felt sorry for the buffalo . . .

  3. José

    Conservative Protestants do indeed find good political friends in the Roman faith. Many Southern Baptists say that they are deeply sorry that they won’t see their Catholic buddies in the hereafter.

  4. perplexed

    You just can help but wonder how Roe vs Wade would fare with this court!

  5. cheese

    No, we don’t need more Christian justices. I’d say Christ is already well represented.

  6. José

    American Catholicism is similarly divided on the issue of right to life No, not whether that right begins at conception but instead whether such a right ever exists for minorities, the poor, and people of other nations. You can’t fault the Supreme Catholics for bowing to papal pressure on matters of capital punishment, war, or hunger.

  7. perplexed

    In all honesty, give the court the respect it deserves, these people are independent thinkers who have religious beliefs that are not necessarily influenced by court decisions, they have a logical interpretation of the law.

  8. Caleb Powers

    Perplexed sez: “In all honesty, give the court the respect it deserves, these people are independent thinkers . . .”

    That doesn’t bode well for people like Scalia and Thomas. If they were merely trumpeting what their right wing heroes want to hear, at least that’s good politics. If they really believe this right wing blather, it means they’re idiots. And, like the good hillbilly I am, I’ll take a thief over an idiot any day.

  9. perplexed

    Caleb, they operate in the parameters of the law.

  10. Caleb Powers

    I remembered that I had read at one point that Clarence Thomas was an Episcopalian. In reading further, it appears that he has given up on that denomination and gone back to his Catholic roots, making him the sixth Catholic justice on the court.

    Interestingly, Justice Souter’s retirement means that this may be the first Supreme Court in US history not to have a single Episcopalian on it. Both Sandra Day O’Connor and Souter were Episcopalians, as were Byron White, Potter Stewart, and Thurgood Marshall.

    According to, out of the 108 justices who have served so far, 35, almost one third, have been Episcopalians; the original court in 1789 was chock full of them. I haven’t gone back and matched up the years of service, but I can’t spot a time when we didn’t have at least one good Anglican on the court. Times they are a changing.

  11. perplexed

    Have you heard, Justice Souter said he would retire in 3 years, must be waiting for another president, if that not a statement of disapproval, I don’t know what is!

  12. José

    That was Justice Stevens, who is both the oldest and longest serving member of the current court. (Souter retired last year, replaced by Sotomayor.) Stevens said that he would retire WITHIN three years, meaning that it would be during Obama’s first (and maybe only) term.

  13. perplexed

    Sorry , got confused there, but the implication to the President was there, I thought it was a bold move for a non-partisan court.

  14. Caleb Powers

    There’s a great article in this week’s New Yorker, which profiles John Paul Stevens and talks considerably about how much more of a partisan institution the Court has become. It makes the point I’ve made in the past here: The Republican Party, in particular, is a far different animal than it was in 1975 when Stevens was appointed. He says in the article that at that time he considered himself a Republican, and supported Republican moderates like Ford and Rockefeller. His implication was that the Republican Party had moved considerably to the right ideologically, and that this had shown up in its appointments to the Court. I have often said that my family were charter members of the Republican Party during the Civil War, and that it was only after the abandonment by the party of its past principles, particularly on civil rights, that my relatives began registering as Democrats. In fact, I may have been the first member of my family never to have been a registered Republican. While my father is a Democrat now (or at least talks like one), he was a Republican for many years, and my grandfather and great grandfather were both lifelong Republicans.


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