A word about the importance of religious diversity in replacing Justice Stevens, now the Court’s only Protestant justice. Though there’s been some agonizing on the subject, it actually seems pretty straightforward to me: If we care about other kinds of diversity on the Court, then we should care about religious diversity, as well.
Over the past 25 years or so, we’ve seen the emergence of a new (or newly restored, some would say) legal and cultural understanding of religion, driven in part by the insight that for many believers, religious faith isn’t a private “hobby” that can be relegated to the home and church; rather, religious belief and identity are integral parts of a person, necessarily and appropriately informing public roles and the public sphere. It should follow that judges’ world views will be inflected, in rich and complicated ways, by their religious backgrounds and beliefs, just as they will by gender and race and socioeconomic status, among other traditional indicia of diversity. If what we’re looking for is a diversity of life experiences and ways of thinking about the world – because that diversity strengthens and enriches the overall legal conversation – then religious diversity matters.
What seems to complicate the question is that we may care about diversity on the Supreme Court for a different reason, too. Diversity on the Court also serves an important symbolic function, making clear that legal institutions and the law itself are now open and responsive to groups that once were excluded or marginalized. And it is probably and happily true that for this distinct purpose, representation of various religious faiths on the Court is no longer a compelling need (and that representation of the traditional Protestant faith probably never was). Which means that the President might rightly feel no urgency about religious representation in making his choice of a successor to Justice Stevens. But it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t continue to value religious diversity across the bench, for the contribution it makes to the legal discourse. — Pamela Harris