Acton Institute Powerblog

Catholicism and the Supreme Court

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Upon Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court, a number of voices on the Christian and religious blogosphere wondered about the absence of press attention to the religious makeup of the court. The new court’s makeup, whether or not Sotomayor is ultimately confirmed, is historic. As Terry Mattingly wrote at GetReligion, tongue planted firmly in cheek, “prepare for more headlines about Catholics taking over our nation’s legal discourse.”

A few days later World’s Mickey McLean took note of the issue, and about that same time (after the “early” reports gave way to a bit more in-depth coverage), the mainstream press began to ask of Sotomayor, “Is She Catholic? Does It Matter?”

Martin E. Marty of the University of Chicago Divinity School, wrote the following (HT):

My trained and focused eye — trained to do “sightings” of public religion in the various media, including the internet, and focused on the chosen subject of the week — has been seeking evidence of anti-Catholicism among mainline Protestant and Evangelical leaders, in the form of expressions of worry and prejudice. Unless between Saturday (when I write) and Monday (when readers read) some surprise occurs, public controversies over her appointment will not yet have attracted the voice of any non-Catholic bishops, moderators, denominational presidents, church-body newspapers, or representative columnists.

I hope my piece appearing today on the First Things website doesn’t qualify as “evidence of anti-Catholicism,” so much as a critique of the state of contemporary Protestant moral, legal, and political thinking. Sotomayor’s appointment and the resulting Roman Catholic supermajority on the court ought to be met with some ambivalence among Evangelical Protestants. On the one hand, the bulk of Roman Catholic judges on the court are those most likely to be aligned with traditional Christian moral, legal, and political perspectives, historically shared by Catholics and Protestants alike.

On the other hand, the fact that half of all the Roman Catholics who have ever served will be serving simultaneously, and the fact that there will be only one Protestant on the court, does say something about the declining influence and vigor of Protestantism in the public square. That ought to be cause for concern and worry among Protestants. And that’s the point of departure for my First Things “On the Square” essay, “Sotomayor, Roman Catholic Supremacy, and Protestant Approaches to Law.”

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he also serves as executive editor the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has authored articles in academic publications such as The Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, and Journal of Scholarly Publishing, and has written popular pieces for newspapers including the Detroit News, Orange County Register, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2006, Jordan was profiled in the book, The Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists And Innovators Who Are Changing The World Through Faith. Jordan's scholarly interests include Reformation studies, church-state relations, theological anthropology, social ethics, theology and economics, and research methodology. Jordan is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), and he resides in Jenison, Michigan with his wife and three children.

Comments

  • If there is little worry/attention about the number of Catholics on the Court, perhaps that’s more of a commentary on the state of affairs of Catholicism.

    Why worry about balance in that regard — from a mainstream media POV — if on the biggest issue of the day, abortion, it’s very unlikely that Sotomayor would vote to overturn, Catholic or not?

    And no one is really sure how the newest Catholic judges on the Court would vote on that issue.

    No wonder another Catholic on the Court is treated as an Alfred E. Neuman moment.