30 June 2014

Is Catholicism What's Wrong with the Supreme Court?

The US was founded by Protestants. For the first time in this country's history, there is not a single Protestant on the Supreme Court. (The court now has 6 Catholics and 3 Jews.)

Henry VIII declared himself head of the Church of England and in one bold stroke made the church subordinate to the state. From then on, the church could exercise only what rights the state granted it. Our country was founded by British citizens who grew up with this as part of their heritage.

Not all of the world was so innovative. Around that same time, the Spanish Inquisition was underway. In Spain, church teachings drove national policy. The church determined who monarchs should be and what policies were appropriate. Politics took its lead from religion. 

It's been centuries since then but cultures take generations to change. I suspect that this sort of difference in history would create different sensibilities, different cultures, with Catholics and Protestants.

Justice Scalia, for instance, has made it clear that his role model is Thomas More. More refused to acknowledge Henry VIII's role as head of the Church of England, a refusal for which he was eventually beheaded by the English and later named a saint by Catholics. It is hard to more clearly state one's revulsion to the church being subordinated to state than the declaration that More is your idol. Had More won in his contest with King Henry, England would have remained under the control of Rome. In Scalia's preferred world, when the Vatican later shut down scientists like Galileo in Italy they would have also been able to shut down scientists in England. Scalia's adoration for More would make more sense in a country more scientifically and socially backwards like Italy, Colombia or even 16th century Spain than 21st century US. Yet here he is, casting the deciding vote and writing the majority opinion on today's decision about religious rights of owners vs. healthcare rights of their employees.

I could be wrong but I suspect that if the Supreme Court still had a few Protestants to balance against a few Catholics, the religious rights of business owners would not have defined medical care for their employees.

The current court:
NameReligionAppt. byOn the Court since
John Roberts (Chief Justice)Roman CatholicG.W. Bush2005
Antonin ScaliaRoman CatholicReagan1986
Anthony KennedyRoman CatholicReagan1988
Clarence ThomasRoman CatholicG.H.W. Bush1991
Samuel AlitoRoman CatholicG.W. Bush2006
Sonia SotomayorRoman CatholicObama2009
Ruth Bader GinsburgJewishClinton1993
Stephen BreyerJewishClinton1994
Elena KaganJewishObama2010


Lifehiker said...

I disagree that it's a Roman Catholic problem. I know many Roman Catholics, including intellectuals, who would disagree with Scalia. The problem is that presidents choose, and senators confirm, hardliner justices like Scalia whose idol was More. What cracks me up is that the protestant religious right is now arm in arm with Scalia when not so many years ago they threw rocks at the hated "Papists". Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Could it be that the author of this article has an anti-Catholic bigotry problem?

Anonymous said...

Having this many Catholic justices on the Supreme Court, I think, is worthy of thought whether or not the outcome might have been different otherwise in this case. Do we want the highest court to be skewed in this way? And how did this happen? What does this say about the top law schools in the U.S.? Much to think about here. Betty

Ron Davison said...

LH - Well, I agree that individuals in any (or no) religion vary all over the map. I don't agree that the religions have the same systematic approach to social issues, and that's my concern.
Anon - bigotry? It may be. All I know is that Catholic countries went from leading the West to trailing. Catholic countries were first most resistant to science, and fell behind for that. More recently, they've lagged on women's rights - from divorce to contraceptives and abortion - and have once again lagged Protestant countries. Generally speaking, Catholic countries have done a poorer job of separating out religion from their politics and they've suffered for it.
Betty - Yes. It seems rude to bring it up, per LH's comment. But then it occurred to me that this is inescapably about religion and for that reason alone it is worth examining the religion of the justices.

Anonymous said...

I think in their heart of hearts they believe corporations should be allowed to do whatever they want.

"Catholic" might be what it says on their team jersey, but I don't think that really defines their identities. Their gods are money and power.