Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A thought about the recent nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court

We have here a new moment in time, a strange road marker on the journey that is our country's history. For the first time in our history, Protestants will be completely absent from the Court. Even stranger, they've been replaced by members of the two religious groups that have the longest and most bitter history of discrimination in our nation. Just fifty years ago it might have seemed strange that our High Court, the part of our government most entrenched and therefore most protected against the will of the people, would be populated entirely by members of these two groups that had held the contempt and hatred of the majority for the previous two centuries and several more in the countries of our origin. Perhaps this should be a day of celebration for the members of these two groups, a day to celebrate their acceptance into a country that once viewed them with disdain. However...

The catch in all this, the asterisk next to the interesting statistic, is that these six men and three women were not chosen by the (still exclusively, save one exception) Protestant men who govern our country because of their religions or the feelings of those Protestant Presidents toward those religions. Rather, these men and women were chosen because of the political ideologies that govern their positions more than their religions ever would. The two Presidents Bush and President Reagan did not nominate the four reliably conservative justices because they were Catholic, but rather because they were willing to ignore the Church's teachings on the death penalty, concern for the poor, and just war while latching on to the Church's opposition to abortion for purely political reasons. Likewise, President Clinton did not nominate Justice Ginsburg nor did Obama nominate Sotomayor and now Kagan because of their religion but rather because of their ideology.

If Elena Kagan is confirmed by the majority-Democratic Congress, it will not be because they've decided that Jewish people are to be trusted and respected. This respect may already exist, but it will have nothing to do with the decision to make her a Supreme Court Justice. Rather it will be due to her support for Democratic objectives like legalized abortion and gay marriage, and for the Obama supporters it will be because of her support for a supremacist interpretation of the power of the Executive Branch. Her nomination and subsequent confirmation will have less to do with changing American attitudes toward religious minorities than it will have to do with her support for the assaults on habeas corpus and Miranda notification that were started by Republicans and have recently been taken up by the Democrats upon the restoration of their power.

The religious beliefs of the Justices may not be Protestant, but the ideologies that bring them there and guide their decisions most definitely are. This is still a Protestant nation, guided by Protestant ideas and parties that are of a Protestant nature (Episcopalian for the Dems, Baptist and Evangelical for the Reps), and that will not change regardless of who is nominated for the Court. Tragically, if their religious beliefs have anything to do with their nomination it will be as a shield against criticism by political opponents. The most recent President Bush repeatedly used the accusation of anti-Catholicism against Democrats who opposed his nominations of Alito and Roberts, and Obama may very well try to use accusations of antisemitism against Republicans on the Kagan nomination because of their reliance on conservative Jews and Evangelicals who support the nationalist policies of the Israeli state. An entire Supreme Court of "token Catholics" and "token Jews" may be a strange thing to envision, but in a country where getting a Court nominee confirmed can become extremely contentious it is perhaps the only way left to fill a vacancy.

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