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The Religious Affiliation of Supreme Court Justice
Samuel Alito


On 31 October 2005, President George W. Bush announced his nomination of Samuel Alito to replace outgoing justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court. Samuel A. Alito, Jr. is a Catholic.

At the time of his nomination, Alito was a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit whose ideological similiarities to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has earned him the nickname "Scalito."

From: Rachel Zoll (Associated Press), "Alito would tip court to Catholics: If nominee's confirmed, members would hold majority for 1st time", published in The Indiana Star, 2 November 2005 (http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20051102/NEWS06/511020482/1012; viewed 2 November 2005):

Alito, a federal appeals court judge, and his wife belong to Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Parish in Roseland, N.J. A Newark Archdiocesan spokesman said Alito attends Mass weekly, and his wife teaches religious education classes at the church, where his children were confirmed.
From: Mike Allen, "Why Bush Picked Alito", web exclusive posted on Time Magazine website, 31 October 2005 (http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1124426,00.html; viewed 31 October 2005):
Alito's friends hate the nickname "Scalito," which they contend was conferred by the media, and is generally used as an unflattering or dismissive reference to positions Alito holds in common with his fellow conservative Catholic Italian-American, Justice Antonin Scalia. Alito is perhaps a non-threatening version of Scalia -- he's certainly in the justice's camp, but not as combative.
From: DaveGOP, "The Next Justice" on "Red State" blog website, posted 27 October 2005 (http://davegop.redstate.org/; viewed 31 October 2005):
Samuel Alito. Despite being nicknamed "Scalito," Alito's demeanor is quite different from his SCOTUS namesake. With a "coach" style personality, Alito has possibly the most important quality Bush needs to look for in a Chief: the ability to build a consensus on the Court. Yet like Scalia, Alito is a committed originalist. He's an Italian-Catholic from the PA/NJ region who has a pro-life judicial record and is only in his mid-50s, yet qualified to be Chief. In terms of intellect, temperment, philosophy, age, and demographics, he is by far the best pick to be the next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

From: Allie Martin and Jody Brown, "Christian Attorneys: Alito the Right Man for the Job", published 1 November 2005 in Agape Press (http://headlines.agapepress.org/archive/11/12005a.asp; viewed 2 November 2005):

Crampton [a prominent Christian attorney] feels Alito's record makes it clear that he will support the proper role of the Supreme Court. Mat Staver with Liberty Counsel agrees. He recalls Alito's ruling in a case involving a Christian group, the Child Evangelism Fellowship, saying he ruled "the right way" in the case, which dealt with distributing Christian literature about the after-school Christian club.

"He [also] went the right way on a school harassment policy that tried to bring homosexual sexual orientation to the level of thought police," Staver says. "He found that that would violate the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. I think the Democrats are going to have a difficult time trying to oppose him because of his exceptional background and well-qualified judicial experience."

..."[Alito has] written a number of decisions that we all will stand behind," he says. "He was the lone dissenter in the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, the one that went up to the United States Supreme Court that re-solidified abortion."

Staver explains that in that particular case, Alito believed that a spouse ought to have notification of an abortion. He adds that he thinks the judge's jurisprudence "would go even further in his philosophy to actually not support any kind of abortion right coming out of the Constitution."

If that is the case, it would be consistent with Alito's religious background. Associated Press reports that should Alito be confirmed to the high court, he would become the fifth Roman Catholic on the current court, giving it a Catholic majority for the first time. The four Catholics currently serving are Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Anthony Kennedy, the latter of whom has been a disappointment to Catholics who hoped he would help overturn Roe v. Wade or uphold legal restrictions on abortion.

AP also says Alito's mother stated that her son grew up participating in Masses and reading from the Bible, adding that he still holds his Catholic values. Rose Alito said, "Of course he's against abortion" -- but then asked reporters gathered in her home not to write down her remark.

From: Jerry Filteau, "Alito would be fifth Catholic on Supreme Court", posted on Catholic News Service website, 31 October 2005 (http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0506179.htm; viewed 31 October 2005):
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- If Judge Samuel Alito Jr. is confirmed as a U.S. Supreme Court justice, it would be the first time in history that the majority of justices on the nation's highest court are Catholic.

President George W. Bush Oct. 31 nominated Alito, a former U.S. attorney in New Jersey and for the past 15 years a judge on the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He is widely regarded as a strong conservative on an appellate court that is considered among the most liberal in the country.

The 55-year-old judge is likely to face strong Democratic opposition because on the appellate court he opined that it was constitutional to require wives to notify their husbands before having an abortion. That opinion came as a minority dissent in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, a landmark case contesting Pennsylvania's 1989 Abortion Control Act.

The Supreme Court in 1992 upheld most of the Pennsylvania law but agreed with the appeals court majority in striking down the spousal notification provision. In the Supreme Court's ruling the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist quoted Alito in his dissent against striking down the spousal notification portion of the law.

In a case of church-state interest, Alito wrote the majority opinion of the appellate court in ACLU vs. Schundler, upholding a New Jersey city's holiday display that included a Nativity scene and menorah on the grounds that it also displayed secular symbols including Frosty the Snowman.

If confirmed, Alito would be the 11th Catholic in U.S. history to sit on the Supreme Court and would become the fifth Catholic justice on the current court, forming for the first time a majority of Catholics on the nine-member court.

Other Catholics currently on the nation's highest bench are recently appointed Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.

Past Catholics on the Supreme Court included two other chief justices, Roger Taney, 1836-64, and Edward White, a justice from 1894 to 1910 and chief justice, 1910-21. Other former Catholic justices were Joseph McKenna, Pierce Butler, Frank Murphy and William Brennan Jr.

From: Tom Baxter, "Alito would give court a Catholic majority", in Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 31 October 2005 (http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/politics/3429349; viewed 1 November 2005):
ATLANTA - Putting Judge Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court would not change the racial balance on the U.S. Supreme Court and would reduce the number of female justices from two to one.

But it could mark a religious milestone.

If Alito is confirmed, the high court will have a Roman Catholic majority for the first time in the nation's history.

Alito would join Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas to give the nine-member court five Catholics.

"It tells us a bit about how the Catholic experience in America has gone from that of being a mistrusted minority in the 19th century to an insular minority during much of the 20th century to an integrated part of the American community, generally, and also the legal community," said Richard Garnett, who teaches constitutional and criminal law at Notre Dame Law School.

Even more remarkably, Garnett said, the presence on the court of two Jewish justices, Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, would mean that seven Supreme Court seats would be held by members of groups that were considered "at least somewhat suspect" during much of the nation's history.

A Web site that keeps tracks of statistics on religious affiliation, www.adherents.com, says that just 10 of the 108 justices who have served on the Supreme Court have been Catholic.

Another, Sherman Minton, converted to the faith after his retirement from the court in 1956. The nation as a whole is roughly one-quarter Catholic.

Three of the nation's 17 chief justices have been Catholics, including Roger B. Taney, who served from 1836 to 1864, and Roberts, the current chief justice. Taney is remembered as the author of the 1857 Dred Scott decision, which declared that blacks, whether slave or free, had no rights as citizens.

The current "boomlet" in Catholic justices, as Garnett put it, comes at a time when the court is moving in a generally more conservative direction.

Charles Shanor, who teaches constitutional law at Emory University, said the emphasis on traditional values in the Catholic church and in Catholic schools is one reason for the alignment.

The church and its schools place an emphasis on "text and interpretation of text" and are concerned with "hierarchies and separation of powers," ideas that also fit with "conservative theories of what justices ought to be doing," Shanor said.

Garnett predicted that justices on a majority-Catholic court would have "nothing distinctively Catholic about their jurisprudence."

Garnett noted that Alito had applied Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, two landmark cases establishing a woman's right to an abortion, in cases he has heard as a federal appeals judge.

"The fact that one is Catholic should probably have some impact on whether one thinks abortion is immoral," Garnett said, "but it doesn't really have much to do with whether a judge thinks Roe v. Wade is a good interpretation of the U.S. Constitution."

From: Rachel Zoll (Associated Press), "Alito would tip court to Catholics: If nominee's confirmed, members would hold majority for 1st time", published in The Indiana Star, 2 November 2005 (http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20051102/NEWS06/511020482/1012; viewed 2 November 2005):
More than 200 years of Protestant domination on the Supreme Court would end if Samuel Alito is confirmed as its next justice. For the first time in U.S. history, five Roman Catholics -- a majority -- would be on the high court.

Yet news that the son of an Italian immigrant father, someone who grew up in a suburban Newark, N.J., parish where he served as a lector and later married, doesn't carry quite the power it might have had in the days when John and Robert Kennedy ran for the White House.

Catholics have become part of the nation's political mainstream -- far removed from the blatant anti-Catholic prejudice that once permeated America. They are as divided as other Americans on abortion and other social issues, which will be a focus of Alito's confirmation hearings -- making an outpouring of religious pride for the conservative jurist less likely.

"The Catholic community is not going out dancing in the streets of Boston tonight because of this nomination," said James Davidson, a Purdue University sociologist who researches religion and Supreme Court justices. "But it still represents a significant development in American religious history."

Protestants have been so dominant on the court that half of the justices have come from just three denominations: the Episcopal, Presbyterian and Congregational churches, he said.

Only two Protestants would remain on the Supreme Court -- David Souter and John Paul Stevens. The two other justices -- Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer -- are Jewish.

Analysts said Alito, as the fifth Catholic, was a less controversial religious choice than Harriet Miers, whose adult acceptance of born-again Christianity was dissected for clues about how she would vote on abortion. President Bush helped make religion a central issue in her failed nomination, saying it was a factor in selecting her for the high court.

David Leege, a professor emeritus at the University of Notre Dame and an expert on Catholics and politics, said the only activists likely to seize on Alito's religion were abortion-rights groups, who will try to link the judge's position on abortion to Vatican teaching.

Most others will focus on his ideology, Leege said. Senators are "less concerned whether the person is Catholic or Protestant than whether the person is conservative or liberal," he said...

Two of the Catholics on the current court -- Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas -- are abortion foes. Scalia, whose son Paul is a priest, and Thomas are sometimes seen walking together to the court after attending Mass on holy days of obligation.

The third Catholic -- Anthony Kennedy -- voted with the majority in a 5-4 ruling in 1992 re-affirming the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, despite some apparent inner turmoil.

Newly installed Chief Justice John Roberts, the fourth Catholic, is solidly conservative, and his wife, Jane, volunteers for Feminists for Life. But it is unclear how he will vote on abortion cases.

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Webpage created 31 October 2005. Last modified 2 November 2005.
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