Why Catholics and Jews?

A lot of people have noted that if Elena Kagan is confirmed to replace Justice Stevens, the Supreme Court will have no Protestants for the first time. Instead, there will be six Catholics and three Jews. About 24% of adult Americans are Catholic, and less than 2% of adult Americans are Jewish. That raises an interesting question: Why Catholics and Jews? Is it just a coincidence?

I really don’t know. But hey, this is a blog, so here’s some amateurish speculation anyway. On one hand, I suspect some of it is just a coincidence. On the other hand, some of it likely reflects the pool of lawyer-intellectual types from which Supreme Court nominees are often drawn. Generally speaking, Jews are heavily overrepresented in the law geek set. This blog is a good example: Most of us VC bloggers are Jewish. And given that most American Jews tend toward the political left, it shouldn’t be overly surprising, in an environment in which there is no Jewish “seat” or quota, that three of the last four nominees of Democratic Presidents are Jewish.

Perhaps the more interesting question is the religious affiliation of the Republican nominees. All five GOP-nominated Justices are Catholic. Granted, that uniformity masks some nuance. For example, Justice Thomas apparently rejoined the Catholic church in the late 1990s, after being raised Catholic and then later attending an Episcopal church instead. Nonetheless, it’s pretty notable that all five of the GOP-nominated Justices on the post-Stevens Court self-identify as Catholic.

How did that come to be? I’m not really sure. One possible hypothesis is that this is an indirect consequence of Roe. Given the Catholic church’s strong pro-life position, and the fact that Supreme Court nominees are not directly asked their view of such matters, affiliation with the Catholic church may be seen by Republican Administrations and conservative judicial groups as signaling a likelihood of a nominee’s view toward abortion rights while not providing any direct evidence that could itself cause controversy (given the wide range of views on abortion among self-identified Catholics). Or maybe not — I don’t know.

Perhaps it’s largely a coincidence? Any ideas?

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