How Conservative?

Should Judge John G. Roberts be confirmed by the Senate, he will become the fourth Roman Catholic sitting on this Supreme Court, joining Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas. That the Court, long a bastion of the nation’s Protestant establishment, may soon have a preponderance of Catholics is a remarkable historical development.

Many ironies surround the ascendancy of these Catholic jurists. For one, all the current Catholic justices have been nominated by Republican presidents, and are considered “conservatives,” if of varying temperaments. Historically, of course, Catholics have cleaved closely to the Democratic Party, which was more hospitable to the urban, immigrant working class. In fact, among the senators most skeptical of the Roberts nomination are a handful of liberal Democrats who are themselves Catholic. This fact prompted New York Times columnist David Brooks (July 21) to hope that Roberts’s establishment credentials and measured demeanor would help avoid another instance of internecine “Catholic meshugas” (craziness), where “you get this brutal and elemental conflict over the role morality should play in public life.”

Roberts is the choice of a president who owes much of his political success to the evangelical Protestant community, once a hotbed of anti-Catholic bigotry. Evangelical Protestants long rejected the idea of Catholics in high public office, fearing “papists”...

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