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June 20, 2009
Sotomayor nomination and Catholics on the Supreme Court
Sonia Sotomayor has been nominated to be the first Hispanic woman to the U.S. Supreme Court. If confirmed she will become the 111th Justice of the US Supreme Court.
She would be the third woman appointed to the Supreme Court and first Hispanic, although Justice Benjamin Cardozo was Portuguese.
Some people worry that if she is confirmed there will be six out of nine Justices who are Catholic.
There have been ten Catholics out of 110 appointments to the US Supreme Court, eleven if you count Justice Sherman Minton, a former US Senator from Indiana who became a Catholic in 1961, after he retired from the bench in 1956. Originally appointed to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals by President Franklin Roosevelt (D), in 1940, he was appointed to the US Supreme Court in 1949 by President Harry Truman (D), with whom he had served in the US Senate.
Twelve if you count Georgia native, Justice Clarence Thomas who was appointed by President George H.W. Bush (R) and is considered a conservative. He was born a Baptist, attended Seventh Day Adventist Church, attended Holy Cross College and was in a Benedictine seminary for a year but was attending an Episcopalian church when he joined the Court. He has since rejoined the Catholic Church.
The first Catholic Supreme Court Justice was Roger Taney who became the fifth US Supreme Court Chief Justice in 1836. Appointed by President Andrew Jackson (D), he had previously served as the 11th US Attorney of the United States and 12th United States Secretary of the Treasury. He wrote the majority decision in the Dred Scott case, which said that slavery was legal. He died ironically enough, on October 12, 1864, the same day that his home state of Maryland abolished slavery.
He administered the Oath of Office to President Abraham Lincoln and was a law partner of Francis Scott Key the author of the Star Spangled Banner but as a racist, he would hardly be accepted as a practicing "Catholic" today.
Another "Catholic", a New Jersey native, William Brennan Jr., was appointed by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower and was known for his liberal legal positions having voted against the death penalty and for abortion in the Roe vs. Wade decision.
It seems that neither being a Republican nor a Catholic can guarantee that a future Justice will vote pro-life.
Currently there are five Catholics on the US Supreme Court.
The 17th Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, John G. Roberts was born in Buffalo but raised in Indiana and was appointed by President George W. Bush (R).
Samuel Alito appointed by President George W. Bush (R) and Antonin Scalia who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan (R), are both from New Jersey and are considered conservative. Both are practicing Catholics.
California Justice Anthony Kennedy was appointed by President Ronald Reagan (R) and is very much a swing vote.
Justice Sotomayor has said that she believes that a Hispanic woman would make a better judge than a white male: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."
So much for the blindfold on the lady who is supposed to hold the scales of Justice in her hand. Whatever happened to the Dr. Martin Luther King ideal of judging people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin?
Justices that legislate from the bench have created gay marriage in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Iowa. The liberal Justices in California have rightly upheld the people's right to vote and have held that the people and their legislators can change laws not Supreme Court Justices. How Justices think and what their belief systems are will greatly affect how they decide cases, but their job is to follow the rule of law not to legislate from the bench.
Judge Sotomayor says that she only attends church for family functions. That's not obeying the Third Commandment of "Keep Holy the Sabbath" or respecting the Catholic Church's rule to attend Mass every weekend. Since she does not have a parish there cannot be any controversy about her pastor but there can and should be a debate about her willingness to follow the rules of law. I hope she comes back to church. She will need all the divine wisdom and spiritual guidance she can get to get through her hearings and on the bench if she succeeds in getting an appointment.