US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Losing diversity with Stevens

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When I first heard that Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens announced his retirement, my first reaction was, "Great, we can get another woman on the Supreme Court."

As a woman, I think it is ridiculous that in this country of freedom and opportunity that only two of nine Supreme Court justices are female. It's another matter altogether that only 17 percent of Congress is female. We have some catching up to do in the halls of power compared to Rwanda.

But I didn't realize that we would be losing diversity with Stevens' retirement: He is the only remaining Protestant on the court, which also has six Catholics and two Jews.

The New York Times has an interesting article about religious diversity on the Supreme Court. There has been an evolution of holding seats for various minority groups. Religion and geography used to be the significant markers of diversity on the court, but now they aren't important (interestingly all justices went to Harvard or Yale and seven were elevated from an appeals court in New England or the Mid-Atlantic).

Should faith make a difference? Note that while a gay Protestant is suggested for diversity's sake, the New York Times article doesn't even consider the idea of an atheist, Hindu, Buddhist, or Muslim!

Are other issues more important? Should the next nominee come from California or the Midwest? Should race or gender  or sexuality be more significant?

Certainly the most important factor is a good judicial record, but you can find that in any number of diverse potential justices.

Interestingly, the Catholic News Service story on Stevens focused on issues rather than his religious affiliation. Perhaps this is just the Catholic approach, what makes us Catholics so popular as Supreme Court justices. Certainly from Sotomayor to Scalia, we are extremely diverse as well. Or perhaps it's just that we're just so naturally intelligent!