Does Religion Matter?
Six Catholics, two Jews, and one Protestant serve on the United States Supreme Court. Justice John Paul Stevens, the lone Protestant, who turns 90-years-old on April 20th, is expected to retire in the coming months. Earlier this week, with these facts in mind, the Washington Post boldly posed the interesting question: "Does President Obama's next Supreme Court nominee need to be a Protestant?"
It's certainly a question that will be at the forefront of people's minds when/if President Obama has the opportunity to nominate a second Supreme Court Justice. For years, advocates have been encouraging Presidents to increase the diversity not only on the Supreme Court but on the entire federal bench, urging them to actively consider race, national origin, professional background, and gender when selecting nominees. But, religion is often left out of this list.
Why is that? Is it an oversight or by design? Is it because of concern that a person's religious background could bias their opinions about the law in a way that is substantively different that the other characteristics listed above? Is it because the courts are considered to be religiously diverse already?
Of course, asking for a diverse Court is different from asking for someone of a specific faith to be appointed. President Obama has had to address religion-based issues before in the context of controversial comments from his former pastor and even rumors about his own religious faith. In light of his past encounters with this sensitive issue, it will be interesting to see how President Obama responds to any pressure he gets from those who have strong feelings about the role a potential nominee's religion should play.