The nomination of Judge Samuel Alito for the U.S. Supreme Court shows how Catholics have gone from a mistrusted minority in the 19th century to an integrated part of American society in the 21st, says constitutional and criminal law expert Richard Garnett.
If Alito is confirmed, the high court will have a Catholic majority for the first time in the nation's history. Alito would join Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas to give the nine-member court five Catholics.
A Web site that keeps tracks of statistics on religious affiliation, www.adherents.com, says that just 10 of the 108 justices who have served on the Supreme Court have been Catholic.
Garnett, who teaches at Notre Dame Law School, said while the increase in Catholic judges comes at a time when the court is moving in a generally more conservative direction, he predicted that justices on a majority-Catholic court would have "nothing distinctively Catholic about their jurisprudence."
He noted that Alito had applied Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, two landmark cases establishing a woman's right to an abortion, as a federal appeals judge.
"The fact that one is Catholic should probably have some impact on whether one thinks abortion is immoral," Garnett told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, "but it doesn't really have much to do with whether a judge thinks Roe v. Wade is a good interpretation of the U.S. Constitution."