U.S. Supreme Court could soon lack Protestants for first time
From National Public Radio. By Nina Totenberg
With U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens talking openly about retirement, attention has focused on the "who" — as in who is on President Obama's short list of potential nominees. But almost nobody has noticed that when Justice Stevens retires, it is entirely possible that there will be no Protestant justices on the Court, for the first time ever.
Let's face it: This is a radioactive subject. As Jeff Shesol, author of the critically acclaimed new book Supreme Power, puts it, "religion is the third rail of Supreme Court politics. It's not something that's talked about in polite company." And although Shesol notes that privately a lot of people remark about the surprising fact that there are so many Catholics on the Supreme Court, this is not a subject that people openly discuss.
In fact, six of the nine justices on the current court are Roman Catholic. That's half of the 12 Catholics who have ever served on the court. Only seven Jews have ever served, and two of them are there now. Depending on the Stevens replacement, there may be no Protestants left on the court at all in a majority Protestant nation where, for decades and generations, all the justices were Protestant.
The first Catholic to serve was Chief Justice Roger Taney, historically famous for writing the Dred Scott decision upholding slavery. After he left, no Catholic was appointed for 30 years. But by the early 20th century, the nation settled into a pattern in which there was one seat on the court occupied by a Catholic, and usually one by a Jew, beginning with Louis Brandeis in 1916. There was no Jewish justice, however, in the 24 years between 1969 and 1993. The 20th century hiatus for Jews began under President Nixon, who, when asked by his attorney general when he was going to fill the Jewish seat, replied, "Well, how about after I die."
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