Evangelical Methodist George Bush has nominated Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. He joins John Roberts, now Chief Justice, who President Bush had nominated earlier this year. Both are Roman Catholics. If Alito is confirmed, the Supreme Court would have a Catholic majority for the first time ever. The evangelical Protestant wing of the Republican party forced the President to drop the evangelical Protestant (and Catholic convert) Harriet Miers, and instead nominate the way Catholic Alito.
How recently would that have been a fighting issue? In 1960, John F. Kennedy’s mild Catholicism was a major campaign issue among conservative Protestants. Last year, John F. Kerry’s mild Catholicism barely made a ripple. He didn’t even take a majority of the Catholic vote – which proves that there is no “Catholic vote.”
Will the Court Catholics vote as a block? Not very likely. Justice Kennedy and Justice Scalia may be of the same communion, but they don’t share much else.
Which proves the point that Robert Wuthnow argued in The Restructuring of American Religion: the crucial divide in American religion today is no longer between Catholics and Protestants, or Christians and non-Christians, but liberal believers versus conservative believers. Alito’s Catholicism will, no doubt, be relevant in his decisions, in an indirect and constitutionally permissible way. The same is true of Justice Kennedy’s Catholicism, though I think it appears more in cases involving poor people. The same could be said for Justice Ginsburg’s very mild Judaism, and Justice O’Connor’s more robust Episcopalianism, to take just a couple of examples.
The center is well served when old divisions are overcome.