The buzz around Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s recent nomination, as well as the ongoing hearings, has brought to the forefront the issue of gender and race in the currently U.S. Supreme Court, which does not appear terribly representative of the country it deigns to serve. But critics and journalists are missing the boat with respect to a determinant factor of identity, going beyond race and gender. There’s a glaring omission from this debate.
While the racial milestone that will be made with her appointment to the court will certainly be significant, an important trend (perhaps the most important trend) in the court itself will be broken by her ascendancy. That is, she will be the first Catholic on the Court who is not a conservative.
While every is scrutinizing the race, gender, and whiteness of the Court, and how it affects the decisions that it makes, the religious denominational breakdown of the Court has been the leading (and perhaps sole) indicator based on identity as to how the Court has voted. That is to say: All the Roman Catholic Justices are conservative (from moderately-tempered Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, Samuel Alito, to the barking mad Scalia), whereas all the other non-Catholic Justices (Ginsburg, Stephens, Breyer, and the now-departed Souter) are more liberal in their decisions.
Since the end of the Rehnquist Court in 2005, the the sides in decisions of the Court could be nearly always determined by Catholic affiliation (or non-affiliation). For instance, Justice Kennedy is occasionally a “swing vote” between the liberal and conservatives of the court, but almost always sides with his Catholic buddies. A few exceptions have occurred, such as Kelo v. City of New London, but such exceptions largely prove the rule.
With Sotomayor on the Court, all that will change! LIberal Catholics around the country can rejoice that finally a non-conservative Catholic will represent and advocate their ideological perspective in the future. A wall will be broken, a stereotyping of Catholics as socially backwards, intolerant curmudgeons will end, and “progress” will be upon the U.S. Supreme Court.
Question: Should liberals now fear that Sotomayor will abandon her hitherto liberal instincts, and start taking orders from the Vatican? (See B.E. Howard’s question to Kennedy)
This post was written by Jeff Napolitano on July 13, 2009