David Campbell on surprising religious makeup of Supreme Court; Elena Kagan nomination

April 28, 2010
By tomsander
Flickr photo by Christopher ChanFlickr photo by Christopher Chan

American Grace co-author David Campbell is quoted in a National Post story on the amazing fact that the U.S.  Supreme Court is likely to have no Protestants:

When Barack Obama nominates a candidate to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Supreme Court, he will most likely pick someone who reflects his own liberal sensibilities — particularly on abortion rights — and those of the justice who is stepping down, John Paul Stevens.

The two most likely candidates happen to be Jews, something hardly any American today would even make note of, let alone be concerned about. If a Jewish candidate is picked, the new court will consist of three Jews and six Roman Catholics, a religious make-up that will likely garner little critical notice, even though it will mark a major symbolic milestone.

For the first time in the court’s 220-year history, there will be no justices who are Protestants, the group that once dominated U.S. political and cultural life.

“A lot of people, even here in the U.S., don’t fully recognize the enormous change that has gone on in American society,” said David Campbell, a political science professor at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

Prof. Campbell dates the start of the shift to 1960 and the election of president John F. Kennedy, despite concerns about Catholics at that period.

“[The make-up of the court] is something John Kennedy would have found truly remarkable,” he said.

In the past half-century, the outsiders have become insiders, while white Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs), often Episcopalians and Presbyterians, once the most important group in U.S. society, are now just another group.

Moreover, the new court is the result of how long-assumed political allegiances of certain groups have evaporated and how denominations once antagonistic to each other have become allies against the broader liberal culture.

Robert Frank, in the Wall Street Journal, also cites David on the nomination of Elena Kagan. ” ‘The fact that we’re going to zero Protestants in the court may not be as significant as the fact that her appointment perfectly reflects the decline of the Establishment, or the WASP Establishment, in America,’ said David Campbell…

“Seen from the distance of time, the changes are stunning. In the 1960s, the vast majority of corporate managers were Protestant, according to E. Digby Baltzell’s famous 1964 tome, “The Protestant Establishment. The percentage of Protestants in Congress has dropped to 55% from 74% in 1961, according to Pew Forum. The corner offices of the top banks, once ruled by Rockefellers and Bakers, now include an Indian-American and the grandson of a Greek immigrant.

National Post, “Supremely WASP free; For the first time, the Supreme Court is poised to have no Protestants”, p. A22, by Charles Lewis 4/24/10.

Postscript: Barack Obama on May 10, 2010 nominated Elena Kagan to be the next U.S. Supreme Court justice.  Nina Tottenberg, earlier on NPR (4/7), stated: “In fact, six of the nine justices on the current court are Roman Catholic. That’s half of the 12 Catholics who have ever served on the court. Only seven Jews have ever served, and two of them are there now. Depending on the Stevens replacement, there may be no Protestants left on the court at all in a majority Protestant nation where, for decades and generations, all of the justices were Protestant.”


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One Response to David Campbell on surprising religious makeup of Supreme Court; Elena Kagan nomination

  1. marlene suano on June 8, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    no matter the religion, justice is justice. Being a protestant, I am no less guilty if I kill a catholic or a budhist!Isn’t this the country where JUSTICE IS EQUAL TO ALL ?

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