In his April 13 column, “Replacing Justice Stephens,” Ilan Ben-Meir ’12 suggests that Protestantism be a primary criterion for the next Supreme Court justice. Protestants may be rare on the court these days, but the logic behind making a nominee’s religion paramount is not sound. In fact, this position recalls both the historical distrust of Catholic, Jewish and other non-White Anglo-Saxon Protestant groups which typified 19th-century nativism and the creeping fear of some today that the social fabric with which they are accustomed is being threatened by the changing demographics of 21st-century America.
Why should a nominee’s religion be more important than anything else? Is the religion of a justice a predictor of their policies? The Catholicism of former Justice Brennan and Justice Scalia did not prevent the former from being one of the most liberal justices in the Court’s recent history and the latter from being one of the most conservative. Nor did it stop them from having different views on the death penalty or the right to abortion.
None of this is to say that a Protestant should specifically not be nominated. But Ben-Meir admits that he doesn’t “believe that the absence of a Protestant judge should, or would, have a meaningful impact on the Court’s operation.” If this is so, perhaps the president should pay attention first to those criteria which will affect that operation.
There are two senators for each state; there needn’t be one justice for every demographic in the United States. There should be no seat reserved for a Protestant, just as there shouldn’t be for any other group: Judicial ability should trump any demographic considerations. If the best candidate happens to a Protestant, by all means, let he or she be nominated, but whether he or she happens to be a Catholic, Jew, Muslim, Agnostic or Athiest should not be a primary concern.
The writer is a junior in Berkeley College.