Bringing the Pew to the Bench: Moment/Newseum Discussion on How Religion Influences Supreme Court Justices

By | Oct 30, 2014
Arts & Culture, Latest, Uncategorized
A photograph of panelists at the Moment/Newseum discussion

In clockwise order: Moment Opinion Editor Amy E. Schwartz; panelists; panelists; Moment Editor and Publisher Nadine Epstein; National Law Journal correspondent Tony Mauro; Religious Freedom Center director Charles Haynes.

In 2005, Chief Justice John Roberts said a good judge is like an umpire. “Umpires don’t make the rules; they apply them,” Roberts pronounced. “My job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.” In other words, the hallmark of a justice is objectivity: Rather than bringing his convictions to the court, his job is to merely call ’em like he sees ’em.

At the time, many agreed with Roberts—but things have changed.

In recent years, political figures have become more outspoken about their religious beliefs, which increasingly influences the discussion of national issues (see: gay rights, the abortion debate). And today, the Supreme Court has an unprecedented religious makeup. Since 2010, it has, for the first time, included no Protestants; instead, three Jews and six Catholics sit on the bench.

On October 27, Moment and the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute partnered to bring a provocative discussion on religion and the Supreme Court. As Moment Opinion Editor Amy E. Schwartz, who moderated the discussion, put it: “Our topic is one that even as recently as a couple of a decades ago would have been widely considered taboo: Are Supreme Court justices influenced in their decision-making by the religious convictions they bring to the bench?”

The discussion brought a panel of distinguished thinkers and writers to the plate: Marshall Breger, professor of law at Columbus School of Law and The Catholic University of America; Robert Barnes, legal reporter at The Washington Post; Stephen Wermiel, professor of law at American University Washington School of Law; Lyle Denniston, American legal journalist and SCOTUSblog reporter; and Tony Mauro, Supreme Court correspondent at The National Law Journal.

View a video of the entire conversation here.

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