Date of this Version
Court Review, Volume 45, Issue 3, 112-115
Like many other Americans, judges can have deep-seated religious convictions. Although their religious beliefs certainly do not interfere with their job performance most of the time, judges’ religion can occasionally become problematic. Witness, for example, the case of Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who was removed from office in 2003 after he placed a 5,300-pound monument of the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the state judicial building and refused to remove it despite being ordered to do so. He installed the monument “in order to remind all Alabama citizens of, among other things, his belief in the sovereignty of the Judeo-Christian God over both the state and the church.” Religion, and its relationship to judges’ attitudes, also comes up in the judicial nomination and confirmation process. This is especially true with regard to the U.S. Supreme Court, which for many years had purported Catholic and Jewish seats.
An emphasis on religion in choosing judges naturally presupposes the existence of a relationship between the particular religion that a judge practices and the judge’s decisions. For example, will Jewish judges be more lenient toward criminal defendants than Protestant judges? Will evangelical judges favor the death penalty? One might expect judges, as professionals deciding a large number of cases, to be able to ignore extralegal factors such as their religious beliefs, yet two aspects of judges’ religion suggest that it is a significant concern and at least as likely to influence their decisions as jurors’ decisions. First, judges are solitary decision makers, so any influence of a judge’s religion would not be diluted by countervailing religious (or nonreligious) influences as it would be for one juror among many. Second, judges rule on matters of law as well as determining factual matters. This opens up a new arena for possible religious influence as the legal questions might themselves contain explicit or implicit religious elements (e.g., separation of church and state).