Beliefs Opinion Tobin Grant: Corner of Church and State

History of religion on Supreme Court in one graph

This graphic is not offered for republication.

This graphic is not offered for republication.

The religious makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court is far different today than it was just decades ago. Once a Protestant institution, the court no longer has one Protestant on the bench.

Prior to the Civil War, there was only one justice who was not a Protestant. Justice Roger Tanney was the first Catholic on the Court. Tanney served until his death in 1864.


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It was three decades until the next Catholic was confirmed. Since Justice Edward White in 1894, however, there has been at least one Catholic on the Court. Current Catholics on the court include justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts (chief), Samuel Alito, and Sonia Sotomayor.

In 1916, Louis Brandeis became the first Jewish justice on the Supreme Court. There was a Jewish justice on the court until 1969. Twenty-four years later Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg brought a Jewish justice to the court.


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Since Ginsberg, the number of Jewish justices has risen. There are currently two other Jewish justices: Justice Elena Kagan and Justice Stephen Breyer.

President’s Obama’s nomination for the Court Merrick Garland would replace Justice Antonin Scalia. If confirmed (a big if) the court would have four Jewish justices and five Catholic ones.

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About the author

Tobin Grant

@TobinGrant blogs for Religion News Service at Corner of Church and State, a data-driven conversation on religion and politics. He is a political science professor at Southern Illinois University and associate editor of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

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