The First Amendment
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The Catholic Court?

Does religious affiliation predict judicial outcome?

Sonia Sotomayor’s appointment to the Supreme Court brings the number of Catholics on the Court to six (out of nine).

Judge Sonia Sotomayor's historic appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court marks a first for an American Hispanic. But in terms of religious affiliation, Sotomayor finds herself among the majority on the Court: Six out of the nine justices on the Court are Catholic.

Although Sotomayor's degree of adherence is not well-established – she reportedly “attends church with family and friends for important occasions” – how might her Catholic upbringing influence her rulings on moral issues such as abortion and the death penalty?

book cover

The University of Massachusetts Press book, Religious Liberty in America: The First Amendment in Historical and Contemporary Perspective by Bruce T. Murray, analyzes other justices' rulings on these issues, and discusses how religion may – or may not – influence their reasoning. Murray focuses particularly on the previous two appointees, John Roberts and Sam Alito – both Catholics, and their rulings on abortion and the death penalty.

Alito and Roberts have both ruled in favor of certain abortion restrictions, but Alito has ruled consistently against murder defendants facing the death penalty. The Catholic Church opposes both abortion and the death penalty.

Murray demonstrates this incongruity between religious affiliation and judicial outcome. A Catholic jurist might rule in agreement with a position the Church has taken, or he might not. Indeed, the views of the Catholic justices on the Court tend to be more consistent with the general strain of American conservatism than with the positions of their church.

In addition to examining the Court, Murray surveys the development of religious pluralism in America for the past 400 years – from early colonial times to present controversies, such as the mixing of religion and politics, battles over religious symbols in the public square, the “culture wars,” immigration and faith-based initiatives.

Religious Liberty in America was selected by Choice – a publication of the Association of College and Research Libraries – as an “Outstanding Academic Book.” It has received favorable reviews in numerous other publications, including most recently the Catholic Historical Review:

“This concise and readable book discusses topics relating to the religion clauses of the First Amendment and, more generally, to the interaction of religion and politics in the United States. ... It is a highly accessible introduction to the topics it addresses, complete with references for documentation or further reading. ... The book is well written, engaging, and balanced in its presentations of competing views.”
Daniel O. Conkle, Professor of Law and Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies, Indiana University (from the July, 2009 issue of the Catholic Historical Review).

Religious Liberty in America is available at numerous university libraries, and it may be purchased from the University of Massachusetts Press.

Find out more about the author here.

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