WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When Brett Kavanaugh took to the podium
July 9 at the White House after being introduced as President Donald Trump's Supreme
Court nominee, he revealed, among other things, that his Catholic faith is a
big part of his life.
spoke about coaching his daughter's CYO basketball team, serving the homeless
with a priest in the audience who used to be his pastor, following the motto of
his Jesuit high school to be "a man for others" and being "part
of the vibrant Catholic community in the D.C. area."
discussion of his Catholicism probably wasn't shocking for many court-watchers
who may already have known that three of the four candidates who were on
Trump's top list of potential nominees -- Kavanaugh and Judges Amy Coney
Barrett and Thomas Hardiman -- are Catholic.
Kavanaugh is confirmed by the Senate, he will not only replace retiring Justice
Anthony Kennedy, who is Catholic, but he also will join four other Catholic
justices already on the bench -- Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices
Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor.
Gorsuch, who was raised Catholic but now attends an Episcopal church with his
family, attended the same Catholic high school as Kavanaugh -- Georgetown Prep
in Maryland. He filled the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia,
who was Catholic.
other justices on the court: Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen
Breyer are Jewish.
Beckwith, a professor of philosophy and church-state studies at Baylor
University in Waco, Texas, thinks this current mix of religious
the court could have something to do with the emphasis on law in both
law in the Catholic Church and the Talmudic law in the Jewish tradition.
But he also said the study of law and medicine was something the second
Catholic and Jewish immigrants sought as professions.
Garnett, professor and associate dean at Notre Dame Law School, has
periodically written about or been interviewed on the topic of Catholics
in the nation's
high court for the past decade. He thinks the current influx of
reflects that they were suitable candidates for Republican presidents
of the Catholic anti-abortion stance.
Sotomayor, was the exception, appointed by
President Barack Obama. In a 2013 interview with The New York Times, she
described herself as a "very spiritual person" although she added:
"maybe not traditionally religious in terms of Sunday Mass every week,
that sort of thing."
most of the court's history, its justices were primarily Protestant, with only
a smattering of Catholics.
outlined the history of Catholics in the court in a 2006 article for Cushwa
Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame in
to his research, 12 Catholic justices have served on the Supreme Court and one
more, Justice Sherman Minton, became Catholic after he left this post. The
first Catholic named to the court was Chief Justice Roger Taney, appointed by
President Andrew Jackson in 1836. He is principally remembered for writing the
Dred Scott decision upholding slavery.
left the court, another Catholic, Chief Justice Edward White, was not named to
the bench for another 30 years. In the early 1900s, White and Justice Joseph
McKenna were on the court at the same time. They were followed by Justice
Pierce Butler, appointed in 1923, and Justice Frank Murphy, appointed in 1940.
The "Catholic seat" then sat empty for seven years until 1956 when
Justice William Brennan joined the court.
overlapped with Brennan for four years and then came the current
justices. Clarence Thomas was raised Catholic and went to Catholic
college and the seminary, but at the time of his appointment in 1991, he
was not a practicing Catholic. He came back to the church a few years
nominees faced scrutiny for their Catholic faith. President Franklin Roosevelt promised
that Murphy would "not let religion stand in his way" which Murphy
reiterated in senate hearings saying his faith and vocation were kept "in
air-tight compartments." In Thomas' hearings, even though he was attending
services at an Episcopal church at the time, he was questioned if he would be
independent from the pope, since he had attended Catholic schools.
and Alito also were questioned about their Catholic faith but not extensively
grilled on it, which some saw as a victory over anti-Catholicism that had been
part of America's history.
bring to the court a greater sensitivity and understanding of the human
condition," said Joshua Sandman, professor of political science at the
University of New Haven in Connecticut. He said over the years Catholic judges
have not been "chosen specifically for the Supreme Court because they were
Catholic. They were chosen because of their capability and ideological
preference of the president who selected them. They happened to be Catholic."
Hume, a political science professor and chair of the department at Fordham
University in New York, similarly called it a coincidence that Kavanaugh is Catholic,
noting: "It mattered more that he was one of Justice Kennedy's clerks."
as how Catholics will view Kavanaugh, he said it is difficult to say because of
the wide range of Catholic views. He also said it would be " interesting
to see if Judge Kavanaugh's jurisprudence embraces all of the tenets of
Catholic doctrine, or just some of them."
Vile, professor of political science and dean of the University Honors College
at Middle Tennessee State University, said Kavanaugh's nomination, like
Gorsuch's, had more to do with being perceived as "social conservative
people often associate Catholics with opposition to abortion, but he noted that
Brennan was a strong supporter of Roe v. Wade, the court's decision legalizing
Brennan was considered a primary influence in the
Supreme Court's 7-2 Roe decision, although he did not write the majority
opinion. A 1993 biography of him says the "Catholic Church hierarchy
was livid over Brennan's vote."
identification does not always indicate judicial decisions, especially among
justices who value 'stare decisis,'" Vile said, using the Latin phrase the
court uses that means standing by rulings already decided.