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No Protestant need apply?

April 14, 2010 | 11:14 am

Almost 40 years ago, Peter Schrag wrote a book called "Decline of the WASP."  Little did he know. Belatedly, pundits are speculating about the possibility that, once Justice John Paul Stevens is replaced, the Supreme Court will be not only WASPless but Protestant-free. (All WASPs are Protestants, but not all Protestants are WASPs.)

Should we care if President Obama replaces Stevens with the court's third Jew or seventh Catholic (or first Muslim, though don't bet on it)?

I don't think so, for two reasons -- neither of them rooted in a naive insistence that the demographics of the court are totally irrelevant.

First, diversity on the court is important for symbolic reasons, as a way of recognizing marginalized groups (the reason for "Catholic" and "Jewish" seats in the past). But Protestants, despite the decline predicted by Schrag, are not marginalized. The president is a Protestant. So, reportedly, are several captains of industry. Little Protestant kids don't need to see a co-religionist on the court to feel validated as Americans.

The second argument for diversity, and not just on the Supreme Court, is that it ensures that a variety of viewpoints will be heard. I think this makes sense, to a point, with gender  and racial diversity. Religious diversity? Not so much, especially in an era in which Protestant-Catholic-Jewish differences are less important than divisions in the culture wars that transcend denominational lines.

Liberal Catholics, for example, have more in common on many issues with liberal Protestants than they do with conservative Catholics. (In the context of the Supreme Court, it's easy to forget that there are liberal Catholics -- because five of the six RCs were appointed by Republican presidents.)

So don't sweat the Protestant issue, President Obama. If you really want to play the diversity card, pick a justice  -- Catholic, Protestant or Jew -- who didn't attend an Ivy League school.


--Michael McGough

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