(RNS) President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, would be the current court’s fourth Jewish justice if confirmed.
For Jews, who represent about 2 percent of the population, holding 44 percent of the seats on the court might be a point of pride.
But is it anything more than that?
“On the one hand, we’re incredibly proud. He’s a Reform Jew and he belongs to one of our synagogues,” said Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, the head of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the political arm of the largest branch of Judaism in the U.S. “We’re happy for him and we wish him mazel tov and it’s a wonderful thing for our movement.
“At the same time, one’s faith has no bearing on one’s qualifications to be a Supreme Court justice,” said Pesner, whose group has criticized Senate Republicans for stating that they will not consider any Obama nominee to the court.
The religion of a justice shouldn’t matter, and for the most part it hasn’t, said Curt Levey, president of the Committee for Justice, a watchdog group that opposes activist judges.
“It’s true that the Jewish members of the court right now are liberal and I am sure that has some correlation to the fact that most Jewish Americans are liberal — not myself, but most are,” Levey said.
“But it’s certainly not determinative, much like race,” he continued. “Most African-Americans are liberal, but that doesn’t make Justice (Clarence) Thomas any less conservative.”
Chicago-born Garland, 63, was raised in the faith of his mother, nee Shirley Horowitz, who was the director of volunteer services at the Council for Jewish Elderly in Chicago. He and his wife, nee Lynn Rosenman, were married in 1987 at the Harvard Club in New York City by a Reform rabbi, Charles Lippman, according to their wedding announcement in The New York Times.
At the White House on Wednesday (March 16), after Obama announced Garland as his Supreme Court pick in the Rose Garden, the nominee shared his family’s Jewish background.
“My grandparents left the Pale of Settlement, at the border of Western Europe and Russia, in the early 1900s, fleeing anti-Semitism and hoping to make a better life for their children in America,” said Garland, a member of Temple Sinai, a Reform synagogue in Washington, D.C., where both his daughters had their bat mitzvahs, or coming-of-age ceremonies.