A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Supreme Court and the Diversity Conundrum

If President Obama's nomination of Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court is confirmed, for the first time in its history the SCOTUS will have no Protestant members. All the Justices will be Jewish or Catholic.

Which brings to the forefront the question of diversity. The High Court Currently has two women and will shortly have three. There is ethnic diversity with one African American Associate Justice, one Latina Associate Justice and one Italian American Associate Justice. But is religious diversity also important?

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, President of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, and named by Newsweek as one of the nation's 50 most influential rabbis, writes the following:

President Obama has made it clear that personal life experience and the awareness it creates are factors in determining who is best suited to serve as a Justice. Comments made by Justice Sotomayor about the value of her experiences as a Latina, comments defended by the President, made that abundantly clear.

The idea that Justices interpret the law in some abstract way, and read as if uninfluenced by all their previous experiences is inane. What does it mean to read anything independent of all that we as readers have come to know and experience? There is no such thing.

Since there is no such thing as reading the law independent of the reader's experience, both the President and Justice Sotomayor were probably wise to admit what we all already know, and should have admitted all along. But if life experience matters, then a Protestant-free court is not so unimportant after all. Unless of course, religion is simply one of those things that doesn't matter, but gender is.

Why is it that gender experience is relevant, but religious experience is not? Why is it that a court with which more American can identify in terms of gender is important, but one with which they can identify in terms of faith, is not?

If it is time for conservatives to give up naïve notions of Judicial neutrality and the idea that the Constitution simply says what it says, then it is also time for liberals to give up the tendentious claim that they are the inclusive ones. In fact, people of all stripes tend to include what they like and exclude what they do not, and the sooner we are all honest about that, the healthier the process of appointing and confirming judges will be.

The issue should be brilliance, not balance. And it goes without saying that one's definition of brilliance is informed by many things. As long as mastery of the law and ability to play nicely with the other Justices is at the top of the list, then we should save political battles for elections and accept that elected officials from both sides will tend to appoint judges who reflect their understanding of the law, stop worrying about a judges identity, religious, gender or otherwise.

Do you agree with Rabbi Hirschfield? What's your view of the Supreme Court and the diversity factor?


Eric Helms said...

I am not sure it matters. It seems most justices primary loyalty is to the political party of the president that appointed them. We have Catholic justices that do not appear to acknowledge the authority of the Pope and Jewish justices that are first and foremost interpreting the laws of the American constitution rather than the laws handed down from YHWH. Would it really make a difference to have a protestant who likewise denies the possibility that his or her religion should influence anything about their life, let alone how they rule in supreme court cases.

Eric Helms said...

Another thought--the idea that a protestant is needed to make the Catholic/Jewish court more diverse assumes a significant difference between Catholic Christians and Protestant Christians--something I am not sure is helpful to seeing the Body of Christ as united.

Allan R. Bevere said...


The paragraph that struck me as deeply true is the one where Hirschfield says that conservatives need to give up on the idea that there is a neutral or constructive reading of the text, and that liberals need to admit that their circle of inclusion is not as wide as they would like to believe.