Merrick Garland is Jewish. Does it matter?

Print More
U.S. President Barack Obama applauds Judge Merrick Garland, center, of the United States Court of Appeals as his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court as Vice President Joe Biden, left, joins in at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on March 16, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-GARLAND-JEWISH, originally transmitted on March 16, 2016.

U.S. President Barack Obama applauds Judge Merrick Garland, center, of the United States Court of Appeals as his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court as Vice President Joe Biden, left, joins in at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on March 16, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-GARLAND-JEWISH, originally transmitted on March 16, 2016.

(RNS) President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, would be the current court’s fourth Jewish justice if confirmed.

For Jews, who represent about 2 percent of the population, holding 44 percent of the seats on the court might be a point of pride.

But is it anything more than that?

“On the one hand, we’re incredibly proud. He’s a Reform Jew and he belongs to one of our synagogues,” said Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, the head of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the political arm of the largest branch of Judaism in the U.S. “We’re happy for him and we wish him mazel tov and it’s a wonderful thing for our movement.

“At the same time, one’s faith has no bearing on one’s qualifications to be a Supreme Court justice,” said Pesner, whose group has criticized Senate Republicans for stating that they will not consider any Obama nominee to the court.

U.S. President Barack Obama applauds Judge Merrick Garland, center, of the United States Court of Appeals as his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court as Vice President Joe Biden, left, joins in at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on March 16, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-GARLAND-JEWISH, originally transmitted on March 16, 2016.

President Obama applauds Judge Merrick Garland, center, of the United States Court of Appeals as his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court as Vice President Joe Biden, left, joins in at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on March 16, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-GARLAND-JEWISH, originally transmitted on March 16, 2016.

 


RELATED STORY: History of religion on Supreme Court in one graph


The religion of a justice shouldn’t matter, and for the most part it hasn’t, said Curt Levey, president of the Committee for Justice, a watchdog group that opposes activist judges.

“It’s true that the Jewish members of the court right now are liberal and I am sure that has some correlation to the fact that most Jewish Americans are liberal — not myself,  but most are,” Levey said.

“But it’s certainly not determinative, much like race,” he continued. “Most African-Americans are liberal, but that doesn’t make Justice (Clarence) Thomas any less conservative.”

Chicago-born Garland, 63, was raised in the faith of his mother, nee Shirley Horowitz, who was the director of volunteer services at the Council for Jewish Elderly in Chicago. He and his wife, nee Lynn Rosenman, were married in 1987 at the Harvard Club in New York City by a Reform rabbi, Charles Lippman, according to their wedding announcement in The New York Times.

At the White House on Wednesday (March 16), after Obama announced Garland as his Supreme Court pick in the Rose Garden, the nominee shared his family’s Jewish background.

“My grandparents left the Pale of Settlement, at the border of Western Europe and Russia, in the early 1900s, fleeing anti-Semitism and hoping to make a better life for their children in America,” said Garland, a member of Temple Sinai, a Reform synagogue in Washington, D.C., where both his daughters had their bat mitzvahs, or coming-of-age ceremonies.


RELATED COMMENTARY: Obama plays the Jewish card, leaving GOP in a pickle


Garland is now chief judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

If he is confirmed, the Supreme Court would have five Catholic justices (Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Thomas, Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor) and four Jews (Garland and Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer).

Richard Garnett, a law and political science professor at the University of Notre Dame, told RNS that many things about the current Supreme Court and its work would probably have surprised the founding justices. “Especially surprising, though, would certainly have been the fact that every member of the court is Catholic or Jewish (and that one of the Court’s Catholics is an African-American descendant of slaves, who graduated from Yale).

“It is, I think, noteworthy that, like every Supreme Court nominee for the last 25 years, Judge Garland is not a Protestant,” Garnett continued. “In fact, if Judge Garland were confirmed to the Court, it would continue to lack — as it has since Justice Stevens stepped down — a single Protestant member.”

The last time a Protestant was nominated to the court was in 1990, Garnett noted, when President George H.W. Bush nominated Judge David Souter.

The other candidate considered a likely choice for Obama’s nominee was also not Protestant, or Christian for that matter, in a nation that is 70 percent Christian, the largest group of which is Protestant. Judge Sri Srinivasan, who sits on the same court as Garland, would have been the court’s first Asian-American and Hindu justice.

Garland, if considered and confirmed by the Senate — something GOP leaders say will not happen — has affirmed his ultimate allegiance to the law, as did Justice Antonin Scalia, a giant on the court and devout Catholic who died last month, leaving the vacancy for the president to fill.

“People must be confident that a judge’s decisions are determined by the law, and only the law,” Garland said as he accepted the nomination.

(Lauren Markoe is a national reporter for RNS)

  • Pingback: Obama plays the Jewish card, leaving GOP in a pickle - Spiritual Politics()

  • Pingback: History of religion on Supreme Court in one graph - Corner of Church and State()

  • Mike Connell

    A majority of Americans are Protestant, and yet there are no Protestants on the Supreme Court (Scalia was one of six Catholic justices). If that’s no big deal, what would the Punditry be saying if the court had not a single Catholic, Jewish, black, Hispanic or female member?

  • Thomas S

    Of course it matters if the ratio is 22:1, especially given that Jewish liberals often endorse policies of affirmative action aimed at limiting the opportunities of WASPs and White Catholics at the expense of minorities on the basis that the former are overrepresented in power. Now, we see that, while certain minorities might be underprivileged, others are massively overprivileged, and by their own logic, this must be remedied.

  • If the SCOTUS did its job as a court and applied the law and Constitution as written, they could all be Martians for all I would care. Their task would essentially be that of a legal technician.

    That is manifestly not the case. As I suggested in a commentary in October last year:

    “Especially as the Court has become less and less a judicial referee – as the Obergefell decision on same-sex marriage recently reminded us – than effectively a super-legislature that feels entitled to impose the robed solons’ personal preferences on the nation, fair representation is more important than ever. It is intolerable that not one member of America’s founding ethnos and core demographic sits on our highest panel as it just makes up stuff nowhere to be found in the Constitution.”

    http://www.repealfatca.com/index.asp?idmenu=3&idsubmenu=165&title=TheJIMgram

    To answer the question: No, it doesn’t matter that Garland is Jewish. It does matter that he’s not Protestant (neither am I)…

  • s feldman

    Reform Jews are not so much religious as political liberals. They are vehemently agaisnt the conservative values of traditional Judaism. That Garland made a choice to affiliate with reform judaism raises legitimate poltical questions that he is a pragmatic case by case decider without ideology as talking heads and liberals have been proclaiming on news media all day.

  • ben in oakland

    So, out come the Jews, and out come the jew-o-phobes.

    Funny.

    And tragic.

  • Tom

    It’s time for a Convention of the States . Time for term limits on SCOTUS. And besides, if they actually did their job and quit legislating from the bench, an even or odd number of justices would not matter. 12 year max Senate, 8 years max House, 10 years max SCOTUS. With maybe a clause for how many Justices can be appointed in one President’s 2 terms. Either you support the Constitution or you don’t . You can’t be halfway.

  • Larry

    “It does matter that he’s not Protestant”? Come on!

    I’m Jewish and had hoped that, in 2016, we as a nation were past that, and that we are ALL created in the image of God. Guess to some I’m wrong about that.

  • Pingback: Merrick Garland is Jewish. Does it matter? -IKTHUS.NET()

  • carlos Rojas

    I don’t think america needs a jewish judge in the supreme court, it will bring all those liberal ideas, that will destroy america, jewish are only 2% or the population , i think we need some body alse, just my opinium…..

  • Tom

    This ain’t funny at all. I don’t care what religion they are as long as they follow the Constitution, and quit acting like a legislative body. You sir are the tragic one.

  • mata matingo

    our country is dying!!!!!

  • Pingback: Religious liberty bill passes Georgia state legislature | CandoGH()

  • Pingback: Daily Kickoff: Jewish radio show used in FBI sting | Josh Kushner on entrepreneurship at SXSW | Profiles: Josh Milstein; Kosha Dillz | ‘Prime’ Battle | Jewish Insider()

  • Alan

    “The last time a Protestant was nominated to the court was in 1990, Garnett noted, when President George H.W. Bush nominated Judge David Souter.”

    This is not accurate. Harriet Miers was a Protestant when nominate in 2005. Bush even tried to use her religion as reason why she could be trusted as a justice – as we all know that didn’t work out to well.

  • yoh

    Hey Jimmy, the Supreme Court has been calling out and striking down bad laws for over 200 years. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

    If the anti gay crowd were able to cough up rational and secular purposes behind gay marriage bans, they would not have lost in court.

    SCOTUS is one of the biggest checks on legislation authority. To keep the majority from stripping the civil liberties if political minorities.

    You don’t like them because they struck down discriminatory laws. Boo hoo.

  • yoh

    Nothing like having a Supreme Court which could be more easily coerced. Btw they have been legislating from the bench for over 200 years. It’s a little late to be complaining now.They support the constitution by forcing legislators to answer for their work beyond the exigencies of voter approval.

  • Alan

    It took 50 years to get the first Catholic, 130 years to get the first Jew, 180 years for the first black, 190 years for the first woman and 220 years for the first Hispanic – I think white, male Protestants can stand a few decades without a sitting justice matching their religion.

  • Pingback: Religious liberty bill passes Georgia Legislature – Religion News Service()

  • Bubbiesue

    Very descriptive term, “jew-o-phones.” Better than what might have been used.

  • Sheila

    When you agree with the decision, would you still call it “legislating from the bench”?

  • edward

    Reform Judaism is rooted in Torah and tradition. It is no more a political choice than being Methodist or Baptist or Catholic.

  • Janice Taylor

    A protestant should be represented on the court period male or female. The court could add a Black woman or an Asian as long as they’re protestant.

  • Janice Taylor

    Agree. Term limits for all public official judges no exception. It limits and even prevents their chances for corruption.

  • yoh

    Nothing like illegal religious tests for government office to show the contempt people have for our democratic secular government.

  • yoh

    Judaism does not approach its scriptures in anywhere close to the same fashion as Christian sects. Interpretations and applications are completely different and distinct. However, in terms of attitudes, Reform Judaism has a lot in common with Progressive Christian sects.

  • yoh

    Actually all it does is make the judiciary more vulnerable to executive and legislative influence, since they have to keep turning over judges. Judges need to constantly kiss up to get appointed.

    The Federal system has its terms as a way to edge decisions towards contemplating the future effects and how they will be seen in posterity. Term limits mean they decide and walk away from the effects of their efforts without consequences. It actually makes it more corrupt.

    Btw the whole “they shouldn’t be legislating from the bench” is complete ignorant nonsense. “Judge made law” is a feature of the Common Law system we inherited from the British. Judicial review has existed for over 200 years. Both are inherent to our system. We are not going to upend the entire judicial system because you couldn’t cough up valid legal arguments when you needed them.

  • Leon

    No it doesn’t matter, if he is white,black,Hispanic, how does his religion fit in the picture. The question is what is his way of Life and thought pattern. Will he make decisions based on the latter or unbiased clear decisions.

  • David Lloyd-Jones

    I’d be perfectly happy with nine Jews on the Supreme Court. It would probably do wonders for the overall level of American justice.

    But think of the printing bills: five assorted, but learned, concurring opinions and four different dissents every furshlugginer time!

    -dlj.

  • The appearance how he has covered up for Divorce Lawyer Ilona Grenadier Heckman – he as she does “HATES” Catholics and has no problem with Judicial Favors / Cover Ups – He should not be approved.

  • Alan

    Yes, of course – one particular religious group absolutely must be represented – period!

  • JCNC

    A white should be represented on the court period male or female. The court could add a protestant woman or a catholic man as long as they’re white.

    What’s wrong with saying so? Why, for that matter, is it fine for the GOP to talk openly about courting the hispanic vote or the black vote, but if they court the white vote they’re racist? No, betraying your base is respectable politics.

    PS re Garland being a Jew, just think about it. the court will now be 45% Jewish where Jews are 2% of the population. Off the top of my head that’s 22.5 X over-represented. Now, is anyone of the opinion that Jews are 22.5 times more intelligent and hardworking than every other group? Probably that it the line that will be taken against any dirty, filthy “anti-semites” who bring this up as an issue.

  • JCNC

    PS smart alecs: I am referring to the fact that although whites are still 63% of the US pop, only 30% of the supreme court in our allegedly white supremacist society is non-Jewish white.

  • Actually very few justices have been true protestants. The vast majority of “protestants” Justices on the Supreme Court have been Episcopalian or what some like to call “catholic lite”

  • Alan

    Whites are represented on the court – currently 6 out of the 8 justices are white as well as the current nominee for the 9th seat. The court has never not had a supermajority of whites on it.

    So what is wrong with saying so, well it is entirely unnecessary to say since nobody has ever suggested otehrwise and it never has been an issue. Thus the motivationf or saying so likely comes from a place of racism and fear mongering – and that is what is wrong with it.

    The line that will be taken against anti-semites (going out on a limb here but I’m guessing you fit nicely into that group and your white power crowd) is that the religious affiliation of our justices isn’t relevant unless it impedes their ability to execute their duties – are you suggesting that the Jewish justices are unable to execute their duties because of their religion?

  • Jeff

    As long as they don’t appoint a cat, I’m good.

  • Jerry N. Wesner

    My religious group, secular, vastly outnumbers Jews, but we’ve yet to have a representative on the Court. If we care about balance, that would be a great addition. And we have numerous members of the intelligentsia who would make excellent justices. Failing that, I would prefer to see a better balanced court than it has been recently.

  • david kern

    Great comment Alan. Totally agree.

  • edward

    I am puzzled as to what thee is trying to say here, yoh. Reform Judaism is a religion, not a political movement, as s Feldman asserted.
    Jewish people can use scripture any way they see fit. It is their choice and whither we approve or not does not invalidate the fact that it is their religion. There are so many different approaches to scripture within Christianity that it is hard to make a generalization contrasting Christianity and Judaism.

  • Pingback: Merrick Garland is Jewish. Does it matter? – The Muslim Times()

  • Pingback: JTA: Inside the Jewish life of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland | AZ Jewish Post()

  • yoh

    I was not taking issue with your second sentence. I said nothing about Reform Judiasm as a political view. I agree. Its a religion.

    However that being said, it does usually closely associate with certain political positions. Usually on a spectrum between fiscal conservativism to progressive beliefs. You almost never see social conservatives in such groups. Being a minority faith, they are more used to being on the receiving end of sectarian bias under color of law than the giving end.

  • The Bobster

    No more gun-grabbing jews on the SCOTUS!

  • edward

    Thanks for the clarification, yoh. It is dangerous to generalize about so-called Christian views, there are so many of them. My understanding of Orthodox Judaism is very scanty, but from what I have heard from Reform Jews I very much resonate with their struggling with scripture. Unless one is constantly questioning the scriptures and looking for the deeper meaning one does not find the Life and Power that is in them.

  • El

    Or maybe we could just choose the best jurist for the job, regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual preference? Nowhere in the constitution does it indicate that the Supreme Court should be “balanced” in any way, shape, or form.

  • El

    SCOTUS judges were defined as being appointed for life in attempt to make them non-political. Given the current blatant attempts by both sides to stack the court with judges partial to their side, that attempt to make them non-political has obviously failed. The best we can hope for now is that left-leaning and right-leaning congresscritters will be fcomorced to promise on a moderate. Despite the foaming-mouth pronouncements of the radical right, I see no evidence that Garland is not a moderate.

  • Pingback: Trump at AIPAC troubles Jewish consciences | CandoGH()

  • Glenn

    I wonder how many non-jews are on the Israeli Supreme Court?

    According to a Jewish publication Sotamayer is Jewish too.

  • Alan

    At the moment just 1, an Arab Christian.
    But no, Sotomayor isn’t Jewish – only in the minds of wacko, conspiracy-obsessed anti-semites…

  • Pingback: The Jewish World  | Inside the Jewish life of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland()

  • Pingback: The Privilege of Being Unremarkable | Bulletin for the Study of Religion()

  • Ira Eugene “Gene” King

    Maybe it is just exposing a religious bias that exists. Not a test, but a recognition of an imbalance. What if there were no blacks on the court. Affirmative action?

  • Ralph

    Being a Jew has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with ethno-phyletism and tribal politics.