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Ketanji Brown Jackson to become lone avowed Protestant on High Court

Designate Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was welcomed in a White House ceremony Friday (April 8). When she joins the court this summer, Brown will become the first avowed Protestant justice in 12 years. Screen capture from CBS News

WASHINGTON (BP) – Ketanji Brown Jackson, identifying in her confirmation hearing as a nondenominational Protestant, is the first avowed Protestant named to the U.S. Supreme Court since John Paul Stevens, who died in 2010.

Neil Gorsuch, raised Catholic and now attending an Episcopalian church, has not widely stated whether he considers himself Anglican or Catholic. When asked about his religion during confirmation hearings in 2017, he said he attends an Episcopal church in Colorado with his immediate family.

Jackson has not publicly announced her church membership, but described herself as a nondenominational Protestant when questioned March 22 by Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina. Confirmed April 7 by a 53-47 vote of the U.S. Senate, Jackson will replace Associate Justice Stephen Breyer this summer upon his retirement.

Christianity Today described Jackson as the first nondenominational Protestant to serve on the court.

Catholic and Jewish members complete the makeup of the nine-member institution that historically was all Protestant until 1895. President Andrew Jackson appointed Roger B. Taney, a Catholic, as chief justice that year, according to the Supreme Court Historical Society.

Breyer, who announced his retirement Jan. 27 after nearly 28 years on the bench, is one of two Jewish members of the court, with Elena Kagan.

Avowed Catholics on the bench are Chief Justice John Roberts and associate justices Samuel Alito, Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas.

Since the court’s inception in 1790, its 115 justices to date have included 92 Protestants of various denominations, 13 Catholics and eight Jews. Included in the 115 is John Rutledge, who was appointed to an interim for four months in 1795, but failed to gain confirmation, according to supremecourt.gov.

Much of the emphasis of Brown’s confirmation has been placed on her appointment as the first African American woman to serve on the bench, fulfilling a campaign promise of President Joe Biden.

“It is the greatest honor of my life to be here with you at this moment, standing before my wonderful family, many of my close friends, your distinguished staff and guests, and the American people,” Designate Associate Justice Jackson said at a White House event April 8. She extended “heartfelt thanks” to those who helped her over what she called “an incredible journey.”

She and her husband Patrick Graves Jackson, chief of gastrointestinal surgery at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital and an associate professor of surgery at Georgetown University, are parents to daughters Leila, 17, and Talia, 21.