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Is religion of justices important?

In Theory

June 05, 2010

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?

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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.

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