When John Paul Stevens steps down from his post on the Supreme Court, he will be leaving the institution as its last Protestant on the bench, so long as President Obama’s nominee, Elena Kagan, is confirmed by the Senate as the next Supreme Court Justice.
This will leave the court with a religious dichotomy between 6 Roman Catholic justices: Alito, Kennedy Roberts, Scalia, Sotomayor, and Thomas and 3 Jewish justices: Breyer, Ginsburg, and now Kagan. This has resulted from a very interesting political dynamic where Republicans have chosen conservative Catholic justices as they conform well to conservative political views and goals. Similarly, there is a wealth of Jewish judges that fit well with liberal political aims. The exception to this dynamic is Obama’s pick of Sonia Sotomayor, who with Puerto Rican heritage is, unsurprisingly, Catholic.
Now, I’m not going to argue that the Supreme Court should reflect the various demographic indicators of the United States population at large. Instead, I’m going to point to a couple of illuminating blog posts from Razib Khan on this very topic. While he called attention to the imminent vanishing of the last Protestant from the Supreme Court, he also proceeded to dismiss its importance, pointing out that the vast majority of Catholics and Jews have assimilated into the Protestant norms of the United States.
Ultimately it is how the justices views echo the views of the populace that matters as opposed to the proportion of various demographic groups that find themselves seated in the institution. Justice Thomas may be African American, but I doubt that the majority of African Americans share his views. Tribalism may be inherent in politics, but it works best when ideas rather than cultural identity are the main focus of debate.