Could there ever be a Muslim Supreme Court justice?
Even though Muslim slaves help build this country from the time of its founding, and millions of Muslim live here today, having a Muslim Supreme Court justice will probably not occur within our lifetimes.
By Farhan Memon, June 1, 2009
By now we all know that if Sonia Sotomayor is confirmed by
the Senate, she will be the first
There are multiple obstacles to a Muslim being appointed to
the Supreme Court, much less the lower level courts of the
First, although there are an increasing number of seasoned
Muslim attorneys around the country and a dozen or so law professors there are
no District or Appellate level judges in the
Second, a significant number of Americans have an unfavorable opinion about Islam and Muslims that is growing stronger. According to a survey published in September 2007 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 35 percent of respondents had an unfavorable opinion about Islam (the same survey conducted in March 2002 found that only 29 percent of Americans had an unfavorable opinion about Islam). Since the Federal judiciary is appointed by the President and confirmed by the United States Senate, the nation’s elected officials would have to overcome their constituents’ prejudices and steel themselves against vicious attacks from opponents. In short, the appointment of a Muslim would not be popular.
The antipathy Americans feel towards their fellow Muslim citizens is based more on perception rather than any concrete knowledge. The same Pew study quoted above found that 58% of Americans knew little or nothing about Islam. However, perception is in many cases reality. One can be sure that during a confirmation hearing, antagonists would be feeding the news media with horror stories about Muslims and the bad acts that have been done in the name of Islam.
The questions about a nominee’s practice of Islam and
personal adherence would be endless. All the familiar tropes would be rolled
out: Does the nominee believe in shariah law and its medieval repertoire of
punishments such as beheadings and stonings? What does the nominee think of
women who are subjugated and forced to wear headscarves or who are forbidden to
The nominee may unequivocally disavow all of these abhorrent practices and still the damage would be done in raising the specter of the Muslim bogeyman. Indeed the only person to escape such vociferous questioning would be someone who declared, like Barack Hussain Obama, that they weren’t Muslim at all or a Clarence Thomas self-hating type who would disavow their background in order to achieve their life’s ambition.
Generally speaking the Supreme Court has not been open to religious minorities. Like the other branches of government, the Court at its founding was dominated by Episcopalians and Congregationalists. It took almost 50 years for Roger B. Taney, to become the Court’s first Catholic member albeit as Chief Justice. It was another 50 years before another Catholic, Edward D. White, was appointed as an Associate Justice.
Relative to their numbers within the American population, Jews have fared better. Louis Brandeis was appointed to the court in 1916. Since then there have been seven Jewish Justices on the Supreme Court.
However, if progress can be measured in numbers then change can happen. If Judge Sotomayor is confirmed, six of the nine serving members will now be Catholic. Two Justices will be Jewish and one will be an Episcopalian. There will still be zero Muslims on the Court.
Farhan Memon is a graduate of Golden Gate University School of Law.
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