It is interesting that of nine justices, all but one is either Catholic or Jewish. The ninth, Gorsuch, was raised Catholic but is currently an Episcopalian. Catholics represent 5 of 9 Supreme Court justices but only 23.9% of the population. Jews are a third of the Supreme Court but comprise only 1.4% of the population. Should any of this matter?
Particularly with the concern over the future of Roe v Wade, Catholic over representation deeply concerns many of the left. Jews are far more over represented percentage wise, but it would be deemed far more politically incorrect to express this concern.
Most Catholic Supreme Court justices are conservative, but Sonia Sotomayer is the exception. Joe Biden is a Catholic and was asked about how he reconciled his Catholic faith with the religion’s pro-life stand. He responded that he was not compelled to force his religious faith on his fellow citizens.
This question answers itself. The fact that these two religious groups are so over represented on the court indicates that religious affiliation is an irrelevant concern. The Catholic position on abortion is less indicative than its relationship to the state.
Anti-Catholic sentiment has been part of our political picture since the immigration waves of the early 20th Century. American Protestants, particularly evangelicals and populists, questioned the loyalty of Catholics to the Vatican over its commitment to the United States. Similarly, Jews were suspected of higher loyalty to the Jewish state.
At the end of the 19th century Catholics aligned more with the Democrats and the Protestants more with the Republicans, although this reversed in the election of 1896. Evangelical Protestants were comfortable using the power of government to promote its religious and moral agenda. The Protestant religious agenda was critical to the Progressive political movement. It found its way into the legislation of Prohibition, which Catholics did not support.
The American Catholics did not look to the government to be the center of their religious mission. This made them less likely to look to the government to enforce their religious codes on others. This was not due to a superior loyalty to a foreign papist monarch, but to a local community cohesion. The Catholics felt stronger about the separation of church and state than the Protestant pietists. Their parochial schools relied less on public education and government support.
Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayer are both Catholic yet have very different social views and opinions on their role fulfilling the promises of the Constitution. Yet both would likely agree that it would be dangerous to apply even an informal religious litmus test on a Supreme Court nominee.
A justice’s history of rulings prior to his or her nomination is the better indicator of his judicial philosophy. Even descriptions of originalism and activism are often more contingent on the issues than the justice. More than the distraction of these terms is whether the justice will lean more toward the constitutional protections of individual liberty over majoritarian democracy, but even this distinction may be contingent on the issue before them.
In this period of political transition the supremacy of the constitution over personal religious affiliations is far more important.