Randall Balmer: Evangelicals “have been outsourcing their judicial appointments to conservative Catholics”

Back in July 2018, National Public Radio reporter Sarah McCammon asked me why there are no evangelical Christians on the Supreme Court. Here is the part of my answer that made it into her story:

MCCAMMON: A major goal for many conservatives, and one supported by Catholic theology. Trump’s shortlist for the next justice was overwhelmingly Catholic. One major religious group known for its social conservatism that’s notably absent from the court is evangelicals. That’s despite white evangelicals’ influence in the Trump administration and critical role in helping him win the presidency. John Fea is a historian at Messiah College, an evangelical institution in Pennsylvania.

JOHN FEA: A lot of that has to do with the direction that the evangelical movement has taken in America.

MCCAMMON: Fea says unlike Catholicism and Judaism, which both have a long intellectual tradition, American evangelicalism has been more practical in focus.

FEA: Evangelicals are primarily concerned with preaching the gospel, with service. So as a result, you have a lot of evangelicals doing great things, but they’re not necessarily pursuing this kind of intellectual vocation because they’re out trying to win people to Christ.

Most of the evangelical lawyers with a public profile are people like Trump’s impeachment lawyer Jay Sekulow, men and women who specialize in church-state law and believe that the primary way of being a Christian lawyer to help the Right win the culture wars.

In a recent piece at CNN, Ron Brownstein explores the place of conservative Catholics on the Supreme Court. If Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed, she will join John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Brett Kavanaugh as Catholic justices with a conservative judicial philosophy. (Sonia Sotomayor, a liberal justice, is also Catholic).

Brownstein’s piece draws heavily from the work of Dartmouth American religious historian Randall Balmer. Here is a taste:

“You have a situation where the evangelicals have been outsourcing their judicial appointments to conservative Catholics,” says Randall Balmer, a professor of religion at Dartmouth University, who has written extensively on the history of evangelical political activism.

The Catholic dominance in these selections, many observers say, simultaneously reflects an ideological convergence and an institutional divergence. The ideological convergence is that conservative Catholics, including those in the legal field, have displayed as much commitment to conservative social causes, particularly banning abortion, as evangelical Christians. The institutional divergence is that there is a vastly stronger legal network — from well-respected law schools to judicial clerkships to lower court appointments — to provide conservative Catholics with the credentials required to obtain a Supreme Court nomination than exists for evangelical Protestants.

The Republican tilt toward Catholics over evangelicals “has to do, in really simple terms, with supply and demand,” says Joshua Wilson, a political scientist at the University of Denver and co-author with Amanda Hollis-Brusky of “Separate But Faithful,” an upcoming book on conservative Christians in the legal world. “You don’t have a robust pool of evangelical Protestant lawyers and judges, whereas you do have a robust pool of conservative Catholic judges and lawyers and academics.”

Read the entire piece here.