The Vatican-led Supreme Court

How did we get here?

Wikipedia gives one quick rundown.

Other Catholic justices included Pierce Butler (appointed 1923) and Frank Murphy (appointed 1940). Some accounts note that Sherman Minton, appointed in 1949, was also a Catholic; however, during his time on the Court he was a Protestant, though his wife’s Catholic faith was noted at the time in relation to the notion of a “Catholic seat”.[71] Minton joined his wife’s Catholic faith in 1961, five years after he retired from the Court.[72] Minton was succeeded by a Catholic, however, when President Eisenhower appointed William J. Brennan to that seat. In fact, Eisenhower intently sought to appoint a Catholic to the Court—in part because there had been no Catholic Justice since Murphy’s death in 1949, and in part because Eisenhower was directly lobbied by Cardinal Francis Spellman of the Archdiocese of New York to make such an appointment.[73] Brennan was then the lone Catholic Justice until the appointment of Antonin Scalia in 1986, and Anthony Kennedy in 1988.

Like Sherman Minton, Clarence Thomas was not a Catholic at the time he was appointed to the Court. Thomas was raised Catholic and briefly attended Conception Seminary College, a Roman Catholicseminary,[74] but had joined the Protestant denomination of his wife after their marriage. At some point in the late 1990s, Thomas returned to Catholicism. In 2005, John Roberts became the third Catholic Chief Justice and the fourth Catholic on the Court. Shortly thereafter, Samuel Alito became the fifth on the Court, and the eleventh in the history of the Court. Alito’s appointment gave the Court a Catholic majority for the first time in its history.

And the Vatican’s triumph was complete.


  1. Anna Gaw says

    You left out Sotomayer. She is also Catholic, making it 6/9 members. She is the only non-conservative Catholic on the bench. Conservative Catholics are a minority of the larger catholic population, and a super-minority of the country, but they get 5/9 seats on the Supreme Court. How did it happen? Political power. Catholic conservatives seem to have it in abundance.

  2. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    For a while.

    Supreme courts and presidency’s – these too shall pass.

    But ethical realities, human rights and what is truly right exist and are true with or without them,

    The Roman Catholic Church has been on the wrong side of history too many times to claim any divine guidance..

    (Like the Earth orbiting our daytime nearest star :

    “Eppur si muove” (‘And yet it does move.’)
    – Galileo according to legend after recanting his belief in the Copernican theory on threat of torture.
    Source : Page 334, Ben Bova, ‘The Story of Light’, Sourcebooks Inc., 2001

  3. says

    I know. I didn’t exactly leave her out, but rather ended at the point where they became the majority (that ruled in Hobby Lobby). But I’ve just read something that says she ruled with the rest of the Catholics in January; will do a post on that.

  4. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    PS. What’s the deal with Catholic judges not recusing (right term?) themselves on issues where they could well be considered to have a conflict of interests?

    It isn’t like the Catholic Church and its insistence on telling folks incl. Judges how to think is secret or doesn’t constitute a clash is it really?

    Why don’t these dudes step aside because of and admitting their bias in all these cases – as they’d demand, I think (but could be wrong), they’d ask jurors to also do in like circumstances.


    Justice is meant to be blind not biased yeah?

  5. says

    Ron suggested just that in a post at the CFI blog a few months ago. I think they should, but…I don’t see that happening.

    We can still push the idea though.

  6. Anna Gaw says

    Sotomayor upheld a stay for one of the nun-groups a few months ago, maybe Sisters of the Poor, regarding their case against contraception. But this week she wrote a blazing dissent when the court said Wheaton College didn’t have to fill out paperwork to claim exemption. I think they are different legal issues, Greg Lipper at Citizens United indicated the sister of the poor stay wasn’t a decision in favor of their claim but an indication she wanted the Hobby Lobby case to be decided first.

    Of course providing contraception pre-ACA wasn’t against Wheaton College’s or Hobby Lobby’s beliefs since they did it freely, goes to show it is all hypocrisy and not even really about religion.

  7. Randomfactor says

    It occurs to me that conservative Catholicism is the political equivalent of HIV.

    It has now infected and overcome what was supposed to be a major part of the nation’s immune system. (The GOP has already infected and neutralized the complementary system, the late, lamented “free press.”)

  8. A Masked Avenger says

    Catholics should be disqualified from judicial office, because we can assume loyalty to the Vatican supersedes loyalty to the US constitution. Ditto Jews and Israel.

  9. David Marjanović says

    ^ Don’t deadpan sarcasm in writing. We can’t hear the tone of your voice; and Poe’s Law correctly states that there are people out there who believe, quite literally, what you are only joking.

  10. Pierce R. Butler says

    Just in case anyone was wondering: Justice Pierce Butler was no known relative of mine (whose ancestors hailed from County Kilkenny, while his parents came directly from County Wicklow).

    Like various other Pierce Butlers in US history, Justice PB served mostly as a negative example – the Wikipffft article neglects to note that his opposition to various New Deal programs was a major factor in FDR’s notorious failed court-packing scheme.

  11. Menyambal says

    When JFK was running for president, there was much worry over him being Catholic. I sometimes still see anti-Catholic prejudice here in the Bible Belt. How, then, do the conservatives of America not worry about a mostly-Catholic Supreme Court? Is it that conservativism trumps Catholicism?

  12. Pierce R. Butler says

    Menyambal @ # 13 – The Southern Baptist-Catholic Alliance has been built over 40 years, as the leaders of both cults discovered the rabble-rousing and money-raising potential of fulminating against abortion rights and for school vouchers.

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