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Doesn’t diversity mean Protestants, too?

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If Elena Kagan is confirmed, it will be the first time three women have served on the Supreme Court. She will be the third Jew to join six Catholic Justices on a Protestant-free Court. What does that mean for President Obama’s pledge to diversify the federal government?

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, has some penetrating thoughts on that and other implications of Kagan’s choice — and the selection process in general.

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, president, National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership

Hirschfield is the author of You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right. He’s also a blogger for the Huffington Post and the Washington Post “On Faith” column.

Here are his bullet points:

The religious background and/or affiliation of the justices ought to be irrelevant, but the decision to create a Protestant-free court may violate the president’s own principles. If not, it sends a clear message about the relative unimportance of religion, at least compared to gender identity.

President Obama made it clear that personal life experience and the awareness it creates should be factors in determining who is best suited to serve as a Justice (for instance, his selection of Justice Sotomayor, who cited the value of her experiences as a Latina.)

The idea that justices interpret the law in some abstract way, uninfluenced by all their previous experiences, is inane. But if life experience matters, then a Protestant-free court is not unimportant.

Why is gender experience relevant, but religious experience not important? Why is it important to have a court with which more American can identify in terms of gender, but not a court with which they can identify in terms of faith?

It’s time for conservatives to give up the naïve notion of judicial neutrality. And it’s time for liberals to give up the claim that they are the inclusive ones. People include what they like and exclude what they don’t. The sooner we are honest about that, the healthier the process of appointing and confirming judges will be.

The issue should be brilliance, not balance. We should save political battles for elections and accept that officials will appoint judges who reflect their understanding of the law, and stop worrying about a judge’s identity ─ religious, gender or otherwise.


Written by Jim Davis

May 12, 2010 at 4:37 am

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