Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Catholics On The Court

John Roberts is a Catholic, and that is an issue for some people. Catholicism was an issue for a lot of people in the United States in the 1850's, when the Know-Nothings were riding pretty high.

But shortly before the Know Nothings, in 1836 to be exact, Roger Taney became the very first Catholic to serve on the United States Supreme Court. He was appointed as its Chief Justice by President Jackson. It was about 60 years until another Catholic joined the Court, so the Know Nothings may have had quite an effect.

Taney served until 1864 - and was the author of the majority opinion in the notorious Dred Scott case, which helped to ignite the Civil War. Dred Scott was decided in 1857, the same year in which Taney's wife and youngest daughter died of yellow fever. Most historians of the Court agree that Taney is one of the Court’s great Justices, despite having authored that opinion.

If John Roberts is confirmed he will be the 10th Catholic to sit on the Supreme Court. The others are:

Roger Taney, chief justice 1836-1864

Edward White, 1894-1921; chief justice 1910-1921

Joseph McKenna, 1898-1925

Pierce Butler, 1923-1939

Frank Murphy, 1940-1949

William Brennan Jr., 1956-1990

Antonin Scalia, 1986-present

Anthony Kennedy, 1988-present

Clarence Thomas, 1991-present [converted after joining the Court]

If Mr. Roberts is confirmed, 40% of all of the Catholics who have ever served on the Court will be probably be serving simultaneously on the day he takes his oath of office.

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