Elena Kagan's successful confirmation to the Supreme Court "would result in six Roman Catholic and three Jewish justices. Many argue that because Protestantism remains America's largest religious affiliation, the top court should have at least one Protestant justice," according to a piece written by Corey J. Hodges, pastor of New Pilgrim Baptist Church, for the Salt Lake Tribune. What do you think? Is it really necessary for the court to have a Protestant judge simply because it is considered America's largest religious affiliation? Overall, does the court's religious makeup have a significant impact, in the end, on how it interprets the law and makes decisions?
Does a Supreme Court justice's religion matter? The answer is maybe.
Personally, I'm not as concerned about the religious makeup of the court as I am about the judicial capabilities and philosophies of the justices who sit on the court.
It is interesting to note, however, that of the current six Catholic justices on the court, four are conservative, one is a swing vote, and the other liberal. Assuming Elena Kagan is confirmed, all three Jewish members would be liberal. From this, one could argue that religion does matter on the court, but does religious affiliation alone dictate a justice's judicial philosophy?
By analogy, let me compare two prominent Latter-day Saints politicians, both of whom are active members of the Latter-day Saints Church. One is Mitt Romney, who ran as a Republican presidential candidate in 2008 and is considered a conservative. The other is Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the current Senate majority leader and a liberal Democrat.
It would be safe to say that these two politicians would agree on few issues, despite their common religious affiliation. On a position that they may agree on? Abortion. Romney actually changed his position on this issue over time, which may be more of a reaction to political forces rather than religious forces.
It is fair to say that the LDS community tends to be more conservative than most, but it is incorrect to conclude that all LDS members are conservative or think the same. The same can be said of other religious affiliations.
In contrast, if a nominated justice were to come from a religious tradition that was not considered mainstream for example, an Evangelical Christian, a Mormon or a Jehovah's Witness, religious affiliation likely would be a major topic of debate at a confirmation hearing. In fact, that religious affiliation could be the determining factor in the confirmation, regardless of the justice's other qualifications or positions.
For better or worse, a justice's religious affiliation may matter, depending on the circumstances.
La Cañada II Ward of the La Crescenta Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Isn't it interesting, in spite of popular paranoia over the public expression of religious views, that every Supreme Court judge has an identifiable faith? And that their faith is an issue of public discussion? And that's not surprising. Our faith determines how we judge both large and small issues. It informs our decisions about what is right or wrong, fair or unfair. "By the book" justices are required to make decisions on the basis of the Constitution, but we all know that personal world views play into every decision as well.
Several biblical examples help us identify good judges. Moses' father-in-law urged him to delegate his judicial responsibilities to "able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain" (Exodus 18:21).
Deborah judged Israel as a prophetess and a woman of bold faith in God's promises. In Jesus' parable, the unrighteous judge "did not fear God, and did not respect man," and gave legal protection to an oppressed widow only because she wore him out with her persistent, repeated requests. Isaiah 11:4 speaks about Jesus' judgment when he returns to rule the Earth: "But with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the Earth; and He will strike the Earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked."
Whether or not they're identified as "Protestant," our country will be blessed by God in direct, visible ways if we appoint judges who "do homage to the Son" of God (Psalm 2:12). But at the moment, I don't see a practical, legal way of establishing a Protestant "quota" for the Supreme Court.
REV. JON BARTA
Valley Baptist Church in Burbank
It seems like a balancing act to keep the line between church and state.
Let us affirm that the right and perfect person will replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens. Let us trust God to direct all concerned in this process, affirming that the highest good for all concerned will manifest.
In the ideal, we all desire a person of integrity, who will listen to their heart in rendering decisions on cases in the Supreme Court, regardless of religious affiliation.
REV. JERI LINN
Unity Church of the Valley in Montrose
Given that the sole task of the Supreme Court is to judge whether acts are constitutional, it would seem that its religious affiliations should have little influence toward that end. It's not supposed to make or reinterpret laws, or behave with religious or political biases, so whether the justices claim one affiliation over another hopefully shouldn't be something for which to get overly concerned.
Our first Supreme Court justice made it clear that he thought Christians should be preferred for the position, however, and I imagine that is because our whole system of law finds its moorings in Christian scripture.
It may be that justices hailing from completely foreign ideologies may not grasp the original intent of our founders, but we have yet to experience such a weighted court. The current group does identify with the God of the Bible, and their affiliation, while not mine, is an officially conservative one. This brings up another issue. How faithful are they to their own identified religious allegiance? I have seen the court move from Protestant majority to Catholic majority, and it was the former that ruled in favor of legalized abortion. So who can say whether bench holders will follow their professed moral compass or whether it only serves to provide them an air of religious sensitivity?
We'll have to see if any cases arise that pit Protestant and Catholic sensibilities against one another in some constitutional malaise, but my greatest immediate concern is that these justices are not activists but rather constitutionalists, first and foremost, and that our religious freedoms are protected.
REV. BRYAN GRIEM
Montrose Community Church
Do I believe that the America we live in it is important for there to be Protestant justice? In this day and age, I would say no, given that religious affiliation may not have any impact on how one trained in such a title adheres to their ethical guidelines, interprets laws and makes decisions. Just as other professions, such as doctors, lawyers and psychologists, who are not Protestant can do their work just as efficiently as a Protestant can. Anyone who adheres to the ethics of the profession they believe in can do an efficient, moral and ethical job. Thus, so can the justice.
However, I do believe that if someone truly lives the Protestant life, it can absolutely affect how they look at laws and ethics, helping them make wiser decisions for our legal system, again, if they actually believe, live and practice such spiritual standards.
The truth that causes me to form an opinion that the title "Protestant" may not have any significance to the position is this: Even those who claim to be Protestant may not truly live the life of character the title implies. So I believe it is the character and truth of the individual that counts. Are they moral, ethical and able to adhere to these guidelines as they serve as justices? This concerns me much more than their religious affiliations.
Would it be ideal to have at least one Protestant judge? Yes.
Is it necessary? I believe, no, based on my previous argument.
REV. KIMBERLIE ZAKARIAN
La Vie Counseling Center in Pasadena
Statistics tell us that slightly more than 50% of Americans identify themselves as Protestants. Therefore, if we were to use religious affiliation as a criterion of eligibility for the U.S. Supreme Court, then there should be at least four — if not five — justices who are Protestant.
Furthermore, if Elena Kagan is confirmed, she would be only the third woman sitting on the Supreme Court — which is not an accurate reflection of the country's population of slightly more than 50% women. However, I do not believe we need to be strictly bound by census data when determining the makeup of the highest court in the land.
As I mentioned recently in this column, an individual's specific religious affiliation or gender is really not important when considering them for higher office. What is essential, though, is that anyone filling a significant public post must have sound religious bearings and be committed to an ethical lifestyle. They also need to possess a firm belief in God and subscribe to the idea — central to Judeo-Christian belief — of a higher power that determines moral truths. Whether a Supreme Court nominee is Christian, Jewish or Muslim is far less important than the overarching necessity for a justice who is righteous, leads an honorable life and shows proper respect for people of all religious denominations (as well those who profess no faith at all).
Also crucial when considering a Supreme Court nominee is to gauge how well they will make the necessary transition from their previous occupation to their new role on the high court. A 1st century BC rabbi named Judah, the son of Tabbai, offered the wise advice that, "when sitting in judgment, do not act as an attorney." Many individuals are appointed to the bench having previously served as lawyers, and Kagan is currently the solicitor general of the United States. But the responsibilities of arguing one side of a case and serving as an impartial judge are vastly different. Whereas a lawyer generally defines the Constitution in a way that benefits his or her client, a judge — especially one on the Supreme Court — must be absolute in interpreting the intent of its framers. Using this approach will guarantee neutrality and ensure an equal application of the law regardless of the race, color, creed, gender or religion of the judge.
RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN
Chabad of Glendale and the Foothills
One of the many wonderful things about America is our belief in fairness. Why, our national pastime, the game of baseball, has the concepts of "fair" and "foul" in it. Does anybody care if good umpires are Christians, Muslims, Jews or atheists? Of course not, as long as those umpires play by the rules and are "fair" in their decisions. We may not like some of the calls, but I doubt any baseball fan thinks that we have crooked umps running the games.
The same is true, it seems to me, of the Supreme Court. As long as we have justices who are men and women of character, regardless of their religion, we'll be just fine. And just because somebody is a Catholic or a Protestant or a Jew or a Muslim is no guarantee as to how that person will vote on a specific issue.
Look at Justices Antonin Scalia and Sonia Sotomayor.
Both are Catholic, but one will tend to vote against abortion while the other will tend to vote for a woman's right to choose. So whether a justice is religious or not religious matters not. What matters is his or her concept of the law and whether he or she truly believes in "liberty and justice for all."
REV. CLIFFORD L. "SKIP" LINDEMAN
La Cañada Congregational Church
I'm never quite sure what to do with this question — the degree to which important bodies of leadership should be representative of the demographics of the people they lead.
On one end of that question lies ridiculous oversight and gross injustice, if some significant segment of the population is not, and never has been, represented in leadership.
On the other end of the question lies the error of choosing leaders based on politically correct demographic affiliation, instead of on skills and qualifications and that ineffable — we church people would say spirit-led — intuitive choice of the right person, the right team of leaders, at the right time.
Since white male Protestants were practically the only ones appointed to the Supreme Court for the first couple of centuries of its existence, I think we can all breathe easy that there is no gross historical unfairness taking place in this current mix.
As to the court's overall religious makeup, my understanding of the vetting process for nominees is that it errs on the side of blandness, weeding out those with extreme political, religious or moral views, no matter how well qualified they might be otherwise.
And for better or worse, we live in an age of secular humanism — religious affiliation tends to be nominal, and religious teachings are easily overshadowed by other social realities in most of our daily decisions.
I think we can trust in the equalizing blandness of the approval process and the diluted power of religion in our age, to ensure fair rulings by the Supreme Court, no matter what its religious makeup.
REV. AMY PRINGLECopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun