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Associate Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court

Associate Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court


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Dates of Service

Name

Residence At Appointment

Appointed By

Replaced

1790-1810

William CushingMassachusettsWashington(new seat)

1790-1791

John RutledgeSouth CarolinaWashington(new seat)

1789-1798

James WilsonPennsylvaniaWashington(new seat)

1790-1795

John Blair, Jr.VirginiaWashington(new seat)

1790-1799

James IredellNorth CarolinaWashington(new seat)

1792-1793

Thomas JohnsonMarylandWashingtonJohn Rutledge

1793-1806

William PatersonNew JerseyWashingtonThomas Johnson

1796-1811

Samuel ChaseMarylandWashingtonJohn Blair, Jr.

1799-1829

Bushrod WashingtonVirginiaJ. AdamsJames Wilson

1800-1804

Alfred MooreNorth CarolinaJ. AdamsJames Iredell

1804-1834

William JohnsonSouth CarolinaJeffersonAlfred Moore

1807-1823

Henry B. LivingstonNew YorkJeffersonWilliam Paterson

1807-1826

Thomas ToddKentuckyJefferson(new seat)

1811-1835

Gabriel DuvallMarylandMadisonSamuel Chase

1812-1845

Joseph StoryMassachusettsMadisonWilliam Cushing

1823-1843

Smith ThompsonNew YorkMonroeHenry B. Livingston

1826-1828

Robert TrimbleKentuckyJ.Q. AdamsThomas Todd

1830-1861

John McLeanOhioJacksonRobert Trimble

1830-1844

Henry BaldwinPennsylvaniaJacksonBushrod Washington

1835-1867

James WayneGeorgiaJacksonWilliam Johnson

1836-1841

Philip BarbourVirginiaJacksonGabriel Duvall

1837-1865

John CatronTennesseeJackson(new seat)

1838-1852

John McKinleyAlabamaVan Buren(new seat)

1842-1860

Peter DanielVirginiaVan BurenPhilip Barbour

1845-1872

Samuel NelsonNew YorkTylerSmith Thompson

1845-1851

Levi WoodburyNew HampshirePolkJoseph Story

1846-1870

Robert GrierPennsylvaniaPolkHenry Baldwin

1851-1857

Benjamin CurtisMassachusettsFillmoreLevi Woodbury

1853-1861

John CampbellAlabamaPierceJohn McKinley

1858-1881

Nathan CliffordMaineBuchananBenjamin Curtis

1862-1881

Noah SwayneOhioLincolnJohn McLean

1862-1890

Samuel MillerIowaLincolnPeter Daniel

1862-1877

David DavisIllinoisLincolnJohn Campbell

1863-1897

Stephen FieldCaliforniaLincoln(new seat)

1870-1880

William StrongPennsylvaniaGrantRobert Grier

1870-1892

Joseph BradleyNew JerseyGrant(new seat)

1873-1882

Ward HuntNew YorkGrantSamuel Nelson

1877-1911

John Marshall HarlanKentuckyHayesDavid Davis

1881-1887

William WoodsGeorgiaHayesWilliam Strong

1881-1889

Stanley MatthewsOhioGarfieldNoah Swayne

1882-1902

Horace GrayMassachusettsArthurNathan Clifford

1882-1893

Samuel BlatchfordNew YorkArthurWard Hunt

1888-1893

Lucius LamarMississippiClevelandWilliam Woods

1890-1910

David BrewerKansasB. HarrisonStanley Matthews

1891-1906

Henry BrownMichiganB. HarrisonSamuel Miller

1892-1903

George Shiras, Jr.PennsylvaniaB. HarrisonJoseph Bradley

1893-1895

Howell JacksonTennesseeB. HarrisonLucius Lamar

1894-1910

Edward Douglass White
(Chief Justice 1910)LouisianaClevelandSamuel Blatchford

1896-1909

Rufus PeckhamNew YorkClevelandHowell Jackson

1898-1925

Joseph McKennaCaliforniaMcKinleyStephen Field

1902-1932

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.MassachusettsT. RooseveltHorace Gray

1903-1922

William DayOhioT. RooseveltGeorge Shiras, Jr.

1906-1910

William MoodyMassachusettsT. RooseveltHenry Brown

1910-1914

Horace LurtonTennesseeTaftRufus Peckham

1910-1916

Charles Evans HughesNew YorkTaftDavid Brewer

1911-1937

Willis Van DevanterWyomingTaftEdward Douglass White

1911-1916

Joseph LamarGeorgiaTaftWilliam Moody

1912-1922

Mahlon PitneyNew JerseyTaftJohn Marshall Harlan

1914-1941

James McReynoldsTennesseeWilsonHorace Lurton

1916-1939

Louis BrandeisMassachusettsWilsonJoseph Lamar

1916-1922

John ClarkeOhioWilsonCharles Evans Hughes

1922-1938

George SutherlandUtahHardingJohn Clarke

1923-1939

Pierce ButlerMinnesotaHardingWilliam Day

1923-1930

Edward SanfordTennesseeHardingMahlon Pitney

1925-1941

Harlan Fiske Stone
(Chief Justice 1941)New YorkCoolidgeJoseph McKenna

1930-1945

Owen RobertsPennsylvaniaHooverEdward Sanford

1932-1938

Benjamin CardozoNew YorkHooverOliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

1937-1971

Hugo BlackAlabamaF. RooseveltWillis Van Devanter

1938-1957

Stanley ReedKentuckyF. RooseveltGeorge Sutherland

1939-1962

Felix FrankfurterMassachusettsF. RooseveltBenjamin Cardozo

1939-1975

William DouglasConnecticutF. RooseveltLouis Brandeis

1940-1949

Frank MurphyMichiganF. RooseveltPierce Butler

1941-1942

James F. ByrnesSouth CarolinaF. RooseveltJames McReynolds

1941-1954

Robert JacksonNew YorkF. RooseveltHarlan Fiske Stone

1943-1949

Wiley RutledgeIowaF. RooseveltJames F. Byrnes

1945-1958

Harold BurtonOhioTrumanOwen Roberts

1949-1967

Tom ClarkTexasTrumanFrank Murphy

1949-1956

Sherman MintonIndianaTrumanWiley Rutledge

1955-1971

John Marshall HarlanNew YorkEisenhowerRobert Jackson

1956-1990

William J. Brennan, Jr.New JerseyEisenhowerSherman Minton

1957-1962

Charles WhittakerMissouriEisenhowerStanley Reed

1958-1981

Potter StewartOhioEisenhowerHarold Burton

1962-1993

Byron WhiteColoradoKennedyCharles Whittaker

1962-1965

Arthur GoldbergIllinoisKennedyFelix Frankfurter

1965-1969

Abe FortasTennesseeL. JohnsonArthur Goldberg

1967-1991

Thurgood MarshallNew YorkL. JohnsonTom Clark

1970-1994

Harry BlackmunMinnesotaNixonAbe Fortas

1972-1987

Lewis F. Powell, Jr.VirginiaNixonHugo Black

1972-1986

William Rehnquist
(Chief Justice 1986)ArizonaNixonJohn Marshall Harlan

1975-2010

John Paul StevensIllinoisFordWilliam Douglas

1981-2006

Sandra Day O`ConnorArizona1958:Reagan]Potter Stewart

1986-2016

Antonin ScaliaVirginiaReaganWilliam Rehnquist

1988-2018

Anthony KennedyCaliforniaReaganLewis F. Powell, Jr.

1990-2009

David SouterNew HampshireG.H.W. BushWilliam J. Brennan, Jr.

1991-

Clarence ThomasGeorgiaG.H.W. BushThurgood Marshall

1993-2020

Ruth Bader GinsburgNew YorkClintonByron White

1994-

Stephen BreyerMassachusettsClintonHarry Blackmun

2006-

Samuel Alito, Jr.New JerseyG.W. BushSandra Day O'Connor

2009-

Sonia SotomayorNew YorkObamaDavid Souter

2010-

Elena KaganNew YorkObamaJohn Paul Stevens

2017-

Neil GorsuchNew YorkTrumpAntonin Scalia

2018-

Brett KavanaughWashington, D.C.TrumpAnthony Kennedy

2020-

Amy Coney BarrettLouisianaTrumpRuth Bader Ginsburg

Lewis F. Powell Jr.

Lewis Franklin Powell Jr. (September 19, 1907 – August 25, 1998) was an American lawyer and jurist who served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1971 to 1987. Powell compiled a generally conservative and business-aligned record on the Court.

Born in Suffolk, Virginia, he graduated from both Washington and Lee Law School and Harvard Law School and served in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. He worked for a large law firm in Richmond, Virginia, focusing on corporate law and representing clients such as the Tobacco Institute. In 1971, President Richard Nixon appointed Powell to succeed Associate Justice Hugo Black. He retired from the Court during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, and was eventually succeeded by Anthony Kennedy.

His tenure largely overlapped with that of Chief Justice Warren Burger, and Powell was often a key swing vote on the Burger Court. His majority opinions include First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti and McCleskey v. Kemp, and he wrote an influential opinion in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. He notably joined the majority in cases such as United States v. Nixon, Roe v. Wade, Plyler v. Doe, and Bowers v. Hardwick.


Split Decisions Were Less of a Concern 

Why six? Because Supreme Court justices in those days were also appointed to sit on federal circuit courts, of which there were 13 in 1789, one for each state. Each circuit court would be presided over by three judges: one district court judge from the state and two Supreme Court justices.

“The justices had to spend almost the entire year traveling,” says Maeva Marcus, a research professor at the George Washington University Law School and director of its Institute for Constitutional History. 𠇊nd the traveling conditions were horrendous.”

To limit the geographical area traveled by the justices, the Judiciary Act of 1789 divided the circuit courts into three regions: Eastern, Middle and Southern. The reason that the first Supreme Court had six justices was simple—so that two of them could preside in each of the three regions.

Marcus said that no one at the time quibbled about the fact that six is an even number, which leaves open the possibility of 3-3 split decisions.

“They never even thought about it, because all the judges were Federalists and they didn’t foresee great disagreement,” says Marcus. “Plus, you didn’t always have all six justices appearing at the Supreme Court for health and travel reasons.”

WATCH: The Supreme Court


Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice | October 23, 1991

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush appointed Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court as an Associate Justice. Born just outside of Savannah, Georgia, the future SCOTUS justice attended the College of the Holy Cross before earning his law degree from Yale Law School. After graduation, Thomas served as Assistant Attorney General of Missouri from 1974 to 1977 Chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from 1982 to 1990 and Appellate Judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit from 1990 to 1991.

For the most part, Thomas is known as an "originalist" — that is, he looks at constitutional issues based on the original intentions of the founding fathers, regardless of how life may have changed during the interceding years. Interestingly, Thomas doesn’t often participate in oral arguments and, despite recent Trump Administration appointments, the University of Michigan ranked him the most conservative justice on the Court by a large margin, as per the university’s Martin-Quinn score system, a means of measuring one’s ideology. Notably, Thomas authored the opinion for Kansas v. March, which upheld the constitutionality of a Kansas death penalty statute.


Current Supreme Court Justices

Though the first court comprised of six justices, Congress altered the number of Supreme Court seats —ਏrom a low of five to a high of 10 — six times over the years. In 1869, Congress set the number of seats to nine, where it has remained until today.

As of January 2021, 115 Justices have served on the Supreme Court.

The current Supreme Court is comprised of chief justice John Roberts, Jr. and associate justicesਊmy Coney Barrett, Clarence Thomas,਋rett M. Kavanaugh, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Neil Gorsuch.


Election of Supreme Court Justices

Perhaps it should not be surprising that a Supreme Court composed almost exclusively of career jurists is so consistent in advancing the reach of judicial power. Of today’s nine justices, all except Chief Justice Rehnquist were already serving on other appellate tribunals when they were nominated to the high court. (At the time of his 1971 nomination, Rehnquist headed the U.S. Justice Department’s legal policy office.) Seven of the justices were promoted from the federal courts of appeal O’Connor was serving on Arizona’s appellate court when President Reagan named her as the first female justice in 1981.

Justice O’Connor is also the only current justice who has ever held (or run for) public elective office. She was twice elected to the Arizona Senate and then won election to a state trial court before being promoted to the appellate bench. Justice Thomas, who served as chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from 1982 to 1990, probably ranks second in terms of ‘real world’ political experience. Along with the chief justice, Justice Scalia, who for more than two years in the mid-1970s held the same important Justice Department post in which Rehnquist previously served, and Justice Breyer, who served two stints as a top staff member on the U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Committee, round out the more politically experienced half of the current court.

Justice Souter was New Hampshire’s gubernatorially appointed attorney general for two years before becoming a state court judge, and Justice Stevens served in a politically sensitive Illinois state appointive post before becoming a federal appellate judge in 1970. Justice Ginsburg litigated a series of important gender discrimination cases on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union in the 1970s, and Justice Kennedy’s Sacramento law practice included many California political contacts before he became a federal judge in 1975.

Three current justices — Scalia, Ginsburg and Breyer — spent much of their pre-judicial careers as law professors, and both Stevens and Kennedy taught law part time. Breyer spent 14 years and Ginsburg 13 as federal appellate judges before being named to the Supreme Court by President Clinton in 1994 and 1993 respectively, and Kennedy served more than 12 years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit before being nominated to the high court in 1987. Justice Souter’s pre-Supreme Court judicial experience also totaled a dozen years, and Justices O’Connor, Stevens and Scalia served between four and six years as lower court judges before joining the high bench. Only Chief Justice Rehnquist, with no judicial experience, and Justice Thomas, with hardly a year on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, were relative ‘rookies’ when they first became justices.

This court, with its strong predominance of heavily experienced and academically oriented appellate jurists, differs sharply and dramatically from the Supreme Court of the 1940s, 󈧶s and 󈨀s. In those decades, president after president named experienced politicians to the high bench, giving the court a decidedly different composition than what has marked the post-1968 era. When President Franklin Roosevelt, after waiting more than four years without any Supreme Court vacancies to fill, finally had the opportunity to remake the court’s membership with eight new nominees between 1937 and 1943, his selections tended heavily toward justices with practical political experience rather than prior judicial service. Roosevelt’s first choice, U.S. Senator Hugo L. Black, was a prominent Alabama Democrat whose only judicial experience had come on a Birmingham city police court. Roosevelt’s second nominee, Stanley F. Reed, was the administration’s politically appointed solicitor general, and his third, Felix Frankfurter, was a Harvard Law School professor whose political activism overshadowed his well-known academic work.

Roosevelt’s second trio of selections was similar. William O. Douglas, also a law professor, had achieved political renown as the hard-charging chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Frank Murphy, Roosevelt’s attorney general, had previously been elected governor of Michigan and, before that, mayor of Detroit. Like Black, Murphy’s judicial experience consisted only of premayoral service as a police court judge. James F. Byrnes of South Carolina was a 10-year veteran of the U.S. Senate and, before that, a seven-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

FDR’s next-to-last nominee, Robert H. Jackson, was a longtime Roosevelt political supporter from the president’s home state of New York, whom Roosevelt had named to succeed Murphy as U.S. attorney general. Only Roosevelt’s final nominee, Wiley B. Rutledge, a five-year veteran of the federal appellate court for the District of Columbia and, before that, dean of the University of Iowa Law School, was a relatively little-known jurist rather than a highly visible Roosevelt administration official or partisan.

Roosevelt’s practice of naming experienced political veterans to the high court was likewise followed by his successor, Truman. President Truman’s first nominee, as chief justice, was Frederick M. Vinson, his secretary of the Treasury and, before that, a 12-year veteran of the House of Representatives. Truman’s three subsequent high court choices were, like Vinson, political as well as personal buddies of the president: Ohio Republican Senator Harold H. Burton, a former legislative colleague Attorney General Tom C. Clark, a Texas political veteran and Indiana Democratic Senator Sherman Minton. At the time, and in subsequent decades, many court historians have strongly criticized Truman for naming friends with less-than-impressive legal skills.

Roosevelt’s nominees may have had no more judicial experience than Truman’s, but with the exception of only Murphy, Roosevelt’s choices, unlike Truman’s, generally have received high marks from commentators and historians.

The quintessential example of a crucial Supreme Court appointment going to a politician with no prior judicial experience was President Eisenhower’s choice of California Republican Governor Earl Warren to replace Vinson as chief justice in 1953. Warren had played a crucial role in helping Eisenhower capture the 1952 Republican presidential nomination over Ohio Senator Robert Taft, and the Supreme Court nomination was an agreed-upon reward for his earlier political support.

Had Warren’s career as chief justice turned out differently than it did, the explicit quid pro quo of his selection might be regarded as a scandalous act of using a Supreme Court seat as simple political barter. Warren never became one of the court’s more legally knowledgeable or analytically astute justices, but his leadership qualities within the group of nine, plus the simple and direct common sense that often was visible in his opinions, more than sufficed to make him, along with John Marshall a century earlier, one of the two greatest chief justices in American history.

Warren’s remarkable success, notwithstanding his complete lack of any prior judicial experience, was due in part to the justices who followed him to the high court. President Eisenhower’s next two appointees, John M. Harlan and William J. Brennan Jr., eventually emerged as the two most highly rated members of the ‘Warren Court.’ Harlan had served only briefly on the U.S. Court of Appeals based in New York before his nomination, and Brennan was promoted from the New Jersey Supreme Court, but both men, unlike Warren, were selected based upon their legal and judicial track records, and not their political experience or connections.

Harlan and Brennan turned out to be arguably the two finest Supreme Court jurists of their era. Harlan, though often pigeonholed as a conservative, was a thoughtful and sometimes unpredictable justice, someone who quickly emerged as the court’s top judicial craftsman. Brennan, sometimes stereotyped as a glad-handing strategist, became Warren’s closest friend and counselor and soon was authoring some of the court’s most pathbreaking opinions.

President Eisenhower’s two final appointees, federal appeals court judges Charles E. Whittaker and Potter Stewart, fell short of Harlan and Brennan’s stature. Whittaker, a Kansas friend of Eisenhower’s family, had served as a lower court federal judge for three years before his elevation, and Stewart had spent four years on the U.S. Court of Appeals prior to his promotion. Stewart became an influential voice within the court during the 1960s and 1970s, but Whittaker retired after only five personally stressful and unproductive years of service.

Eisenhower’s four final Supreme Court appointees were all little-known appellate judges at the time of their selection, not governors, senators or cabinet secretaries. Those selections marked a significant change from the earlier Black-through-Warren roster of nominees, but during the ensuing Kennedy-Johnson years, presidential practice returned to the Roosevelt-Truman norm.

President Kennedy’s first appointee, Deputy Attorney General Byron R. White, had been an active participant in the president’s 1960 election campaign and before that had won national fame as a college and professional football player. Kennedy’s second nominee, Arthur J. Goldberg, was serving as secretary of labor and later, after leaving the court to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, ran unsuccessfully for governor of New York. As the successor to Justice Frankfurter, Goldberg also represented a political commitment to keeping at least one Jewish justice on the court.

When President Johnson persuaded Goldberg to take the U.N. post, Johnson replaced him with presidential buddy and counselor Abe Fortas, a Washington wheeler-dealer with no prior judicial experience. Johnson’s second and final Supreme Court nomination made his solicitor general, Thurgood Marshall, who previously had sat on the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York following an illustrious two decades as the top lawyer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the first black justice ever. Both men were accomplished litigators, but their selections fell squarely in the Roosevelt-Truman-Kennedy political tradition. Late in Johnson’s presidency, an attempt to promote Fortas to chief justice, and then name another presidential buddy, former Texas Congress-man Homer Thornberry, to Fortas’ seat, failed in the face of widespread Senate opposition.

Johnson’s successor, President Nixon, was able to name four new justices to the court between 1969 and 1972. Warren E. Burger, who took Earl Warren’s place as chief justice, was a little-known judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., who previously had worked in the Eisenhower Justice Department. Nixon’s second successful appointee, Harry A. Blackmun, was a childhood friend of Burger’s who had served for more than a decade as a federal appellate judge. Prior to Blackmun’s nomination, however, Nixon’s two previous choices, Southern federal judges Clement Haynsworth and Harrold Carswell, had each been rejected by the U.S. Senate, the first such Supreme Court confirmation defeats in 40 years.

Neither of Nixon’s two final appointees, Rehnquist and Lewis F. Powell Jr., had any prior judicial experience, yet both men were experienced lawyers notwithstanding their relative public obscurity. Powell was a former president of the American Bar Association, and Rehnquist was a top Justice Department attorney.

Chief Justice Rehnquist has now served on the U.S. Supreme Court for more than 32 years, one of the longest periods of service in American history, but those 32 years represent more than just a per-sonal milestone. Rehnquist also was the last Supreme Court nominee who was not an appellate judge to be put forward for the high bench. All eight of Rehnquist’s present colleagues, from Stevens through Breyer, were appellate jurists at the time of their nomination, as were both of the unsuccessful nominees, Robert H. Bork and Douglas Ginsburg, whom President Reagan sent to the U.S. Senate prior to the subsequent successful confirmation of Kennedy.

All the nominees of the entire post-1968 era, from Nixon through Clinton, thus differ measurably from those of the 1937 to 1968 period, excepting only Eisenhower’s four final choices. From Presidents Ford, who selected Stevens through Reagan, who named O’Connor, Scalia and Kennedy then George H.W. Bush, who nominated Souter and Thomas and finally Clinton, who chose Ginsburg and Breyer all eight new justices were experienced appellate court judges before they joined the U.S. Supreme Court. (No vacancies occurred during either Jimmy Carter’s 1977-81 term or George W. Bush’s 2001-05 term.)

How different a Supreme Court would we have today if, for example, either Ronald Reagan or George H.W. Bush had selected Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch as a justice, or if Bill Clinton had named former New York Governor Mario Cuomo? If both Hatch and another experienced Republican politico, plus Cuomo and a second national Democrat, had joined the court between 1986 and 1994, in place of, say, Justices Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer, today’s court would look — and almost certainly act — radically different than it does.

Those hypothetical nominations would have represented a return to the old Hugo Black-Earl Warren pattern but, ironically, it may be that the jurists on today’s Supreme Court are actually far more comfortable with exercising far-reaching judicial power than would be electorally experienced national politicians who for more than a half-century now have been passed over for every vacancy since Warren’s selection in 1953.

There can be little argument that the last dozen years of the Rehnquist court have witnessed a consistent pattern of muscular judicial assertiveness. There likewise is no doubt that both highly conservative and relatively liberal justices have repeatedly embraced judicial activism. To argue that a court with more politically experienced justices would be far more inclined than the current bench to practice true judicial restraint at both ends of the ideo-logical spectrum is, of course, inherently speculative, but that analysis is one that bears serious consideration as a new generation of Supreme Court vacancies looms on the horizon.

The highly political nominees that Roosevelt and Truman placed on the court often exhibited considerably more deference toward executive branch actions and congressional legislation than do our present-day justices. That may at first glance seem surprising, but opposition to the reactionary judicial activism that characterized the pre-1937 Supreme Court was a defining element in New Deal politics. In addition, the extremely close personal and political ties that most of the Roosevelt and Truman nominees had to either the White House and/or the Congress also created a situation in which most, if not all, justices had a firsthand understanding of, and perhaps even sympathy for, the policies and practices of the court’s two coordinate federal branches.

Naming experienced national political figures to the Supreme Court may, counterintuitively, produce a bench that is more reluctant and measured in exercising judicial power than is a bench composed primarily of career jurists who largely lack any significant personal political experience. For more than a decade now, the Rehnquist court has cut back on the legislative powers of the U.S. Congress in a series of sometimes abstruse rulings based upon the Constitution’s Commerce Clause or the highly obscure 11th Amendment. These decisions do not generate large headlines in daily newspapers, but cumulatively they have represented a remarkable reallocation of power between a previously unconstrained Congress and a Supreme Court that now has repeatedly asserted its own authority as the ultimate arbiter of federal legislative decision-making. A court with one or more justices who were themselves congressional veterans might well take a dramatically different, and far more deferential, attitude toward congressional power than have the judicially self-confident jurists of the Rehnquist era.


Associate Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court - History

Even before the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, some in Washington spoke openly of increasing the number of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. According to the Washington Post , 11 Democratic candidates in the 2020 primaries (none of them named Biden) were open to the idea, claiming as justification the Republican Senate’s 2016 refusal to consider a Democratic president’s Supreme Court nominee during an election year. Such talk has intensified as the President and Senate have, hypocritically to some, moved to fill Judge Ginsburg’s seat just one election cycle later.

From a legal perspective, changing the number of justices on the Supreme Court is an easy thing to do. All that it takes is a majority in both houses of Congress to pass legislation to that effect, and the president’s signature (or a veto override, if the president resists). It has been done seven times in the nation’s history, each time for partisan political purposes. Although the practice has come to be known as “court-packing,” Congress has twice lowered the number of justices to deprive a rival party of appointments to the high court. As a brief historical review reveals, the politics of court-packing, and its unpacking, is literally as old as the republic itself.

Article III, Section 1 of the Constitution says: “ The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.” This section also provides for lifetime tenure, while other constitutional provisions define the Court’s jurisdiction. Nowhere does the Constitution say how many judges any federal court must have.

Congress wasted little time in filling in this gap. The Judiciary Act of 1789 , passed and signed into law by George Washington just six months into his presidency, established a framework for the federal judiciary with district courts (then trial courts of limited jurisdiction), circuit courts (the original courts of general jurisdiction), and a Supreme Court, that has endured for 231 years. As for the Supreme Court, Section 1 of the1789 law provided that it “shall consist of a chief justice and five associate justices…,” for a total of six, two for each of the three federal circuits (Eastern, Middle and Southern) that were also established by the legislation. The bill further provided that each circuit court would be composed of the two Supreme Court justices assigned to ride that particular circuit, and a local district judge.

The Supreme Court’s membership remained at six for all of 11 years, and only until the Congress changed hands for the very first time in the 1800 election. The Judiciary Act of 1801 was passed by Congress and signed into law during a lame-duck legislative session after the electoral defeat of John Adams, the nation’s second president, and his Federalist party. The law doubled the number of circuits from three to six, and created 16 circuit court judgeships to staff them. It was, in effect, a post-election circuit court-packing plan, and the incoming Jeffersonian Republicans saw it as such. See Federal Justice Center/judiciary-act-1801 . The act became known as the “Midnight Judges Act,” as the new circuit court and other positions were filled by Adams during the final two weeks of his administration, some on the last day of his presidency. Id . As an aside, it was one of these “midnight” appointments that was at issue two years later in Marbury v. Madison . 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803), the opinion written by Chief Justice John Marshall that established the doctrine of judicial review. He, too, was appointed by Adams after the 1800 election had been lost, but before a new president and Congress had been sworn in.

While the legislation packed the trial courts, Section 3 the Judiciary Act of 1801 also sought to unpack the Supreme Court by providing “[t]hat from and after the next vacancy that shall happen in the said [Supreme] court, it shall consist of five justices only that is to say, of one chief justice, and four associate justices.” By reducing the size of the Court from six to five, the Federalists sought to prevent president-elect Thomas Jefferson from making an appointment to the Supreme Court in the event of a vacancy.

The Federalists’ ploy did not work as planned, because the 1801 Act was promptly repealed by the Republicans when they took office. Their Judiciary Act of 1802 retained all six circuits established in 1801, but little else from the earlier law, and it restored the sixth seat on the Court. The Supreme Court’s roster never actually dropped below six, however, because no vacancies occurred while the 1801 law was in effect. In time, Jefferson was able to fill three seats on the Court.

The last of Jefferson’s Supreme Court appointments followed the first expansion of the court by legislation passed in 1807 , ostensibly to mirror the country’s westward expansion. With its 1807 bill, the Republican Congress added a seventh circuit composed of the then-western states of Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Because Supreme Court justices were still riding the circuit, Congress used the addition of a seventh circuit to justify the addition of a seventh Supreme Court justice for its Republican president to appoint.

The Court’s membership remained at seven justices (one for each of the seven circuits) for the next 30 years. Despite the admission of nine new states during these years and a rapidly growing population, no new circuits were added. As described by the Federal Judicial Center, the research and education agency of the judicial branch of the United States Government:

Presidents John Quincy Adams [a Whig] and Andrew Jackson [a Democrat] repeatedly urged the creation of new circuits. In 1829, in his first annual message, Jackson reminded Congress that one-fourth of the nation was without access to a circuit court, the principal trial court of the federal judiciary. In 1836 and 1837, two more states entered the Union without being included within a circuit. On several occasions in the 1820s and 󈧢s, one house of Congress approved a bill for a new circuit and an additional seat on the Supreme Court, but parties opposing the president defeated the legislation in order to deprive the chief executive of an additional Supreme Court appointee.

The logjam was finally broken by legislation enacted in 1837 , which added the eighth and ninth circuits, and provided “[t]hat the Supreme Court of the United States shall hereafter consist of a chief justice, and eight associate judges . . . and for this purpose there shall be appointed two additional justices of said court, with the like powers, and to take the same oaths, perform the same duties, and be entitled to the same salary, as the other associate judges.” This legislation, which took the Court from seven to nine justices, was passed and signed into law on March 3, 1837, President Jackson’s last day in office. In what was arguably the first successful effort to pack the Supreme Court, Jackson sent two names to the Senate while on his way out the White House door. Both men were promptly confirmed in a special session of the Senate as its term expired.

In this regard, these nominees fared much better than Marylander Roger B. Taney, who Jackson had earlier nominated to become Secretary of the Treasury. Taney’s nomination was rejected by the Senate in 1835, making Jackson the first president in history to lose a cabinet pick to the confirmation process. Later that year, Taney had to settle for an appointment to the Supreme Court when named to succeed John Marshall as Chief Justice. See , www.Senate.gov/artsandhistroy/Nominations.htm#5 .

The Court remained at nine justices for nine circuits for the next 26 years, but it may have been Chief Justice Taney and his infamous opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford , 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393 (1857), that led to the next, albeit brief, expansion of the Court in 1863 . President Abraham Lincoln, elected in 1861, disagreed with the de cision that denied U.S. citizenship to African Americans. With the help of a friendly Republican Congress, Lincoln used the growth of California and Oregon to justify the addition of a tenth circuit and, therefore, a tenth Supreme Court justice in 1863. See , National Geographic, Why the Supreme Court ended up with nine justices—and how that could change (9/20/20). The full complement of 10 justices sat together only for one week in December 1863, however, as illness and vacancies impacted court attendance for the duration of the war. See , fjc.gov/history/legislation/landmark-legislation-tenth-circuit .

Having 10 justices seemed like a good idea to a Republican-led Congress so long as there was a Republican in the White House. Single party rule ended with Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, elevating his vice-president, Democrat Andrew Johnson, to the presidency. In 1866 , when faced with the possibility of multiple post-war vacancies on a 10-member court that would ultimately hear challenges to its reconstruction legislation, the Republican Congress embarked on a wholesale reorganization of the federal judiciary. The 10 circuits it had blessed just three years earlier were consolidated into seven, which not only reduced southern influence on the judiciary by cramming the southern states into fewer circuits, but also provided an excuse to lower the number of Supreme Court justices from 10 to seven, again one for each circuit. Drawing from the Federalist playbook of 1801, the 1866 legislation provided “ [t]hat no vacancy in the office of associate justice of the supreme court shall be filled by appointment until the number of associate justices shall be reduced to six and thereafter the said supreme court shall consist of a chief justice of the United States and six associate justices.”

Three years later, Johnson left office and was succeeded by Ulysses S. Grant, a Republican friendly to reconstruction. In 1869 , the Congress and President Grant restored two of the three seats it struck from the Court in 1866, leaving the Court with nine justices. It has remained at that level ever since.

Over the next 151 years, the only serious attempt to pack the Supreme Court was FDR’s failed effort in 1937, when the Court stymied New Deal legislation that he believed would help the nation out of the Great Depression. The admission of 14 new states, a 750% increase in population, and the creation of four additional circuits since 1869 has not prompted serious discussion about increasing the Court’s membership. For the first time since the end of the Civil War, partisan politics once again has.


Number of justices

Politics and the number of seats

Judiciary Act of 1801

The first example of a political party attempting to shape the Court came with the Judiciary Act of 1801. After President Adams lost his bid for re-election in 1800, the Federalist-controlled Congress passed this Act, which reduced the number of Supreme Court justices by one with the next vacancy. The reduction of Supreme Court justices was intended to delay President Jefferson's chance to nominate someone to the court. ⎖]

Judicial Circuits Act of 1866

The only other time that the number of Supreme Court justices was reduced was with the Act of 1866. This Act can be viewed from two different perspectives. One, the passage of it eliminated three seats on the Supreme Court, nullifying the pending nomination of Henry Stanberry. Stanberry was the only justice nominated to the Court by President Andrew Johnson, who two years later was impeached by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. ⎗]

However, Johnson signed the legislation into law prior to his impeachment. According to the Federal Judicial Center, it was Chief Justice Salmon Chase who urged lawmakers to reduce the size of the Court in an attempt to increase the salaries of sitting justices. ⎗]

President Roosevelt's plan

One notable attempt to increase the number of Associate Justices came from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who proposed the Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937. In what was seen as a blatant attempt to fill the court with more justices favorable to New Deal legislation, Roosevelt proposed appointing a new justice for every sitting justice over the age of 70. This would have amounted to six new justices at the time. Later, the Reorganization Bill was passed without the additional justice provision. ⎘]


Supreme Court History

A simple definition of the chief justice, perhaps, but the road to defining the modern Supreme Court as the pinnacle of the American justice system has been a hard-fought and controversial journey.

With its constitutional foundations in tow, the high court has faced challenges the founding fathers could never have imagined. But it also has safeguarded many of the traditions that have helped keep it one of the most revered courts in the world.

History of the Early Court

“The judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.”

Thus begins Article III, Section I of the United States Constitution — the essential framework on which the U.S. Supreme Court and the federal judiciary rest. While this part of the Constitution established the Supreme Court’s basic tenets, the framers left many of the details of the high court’s exact powers to be determined by Congress and the court itself.

The federal court system was born with the Senate Judiciary Act of 1789. The act split the country into 13 judicial districts and created a corresponding network of courts and the office of U.S. attorney general. It also more clearly defined the Supreme Court as having one chief justice and five associate justices.

According to the terms of the Constitutional Convention, justices are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. A justice serves on the court for life and can only be removed through impeachment on extreme grounds such as treason, bribery or other so-called high crimes. Only one justice has ever been removed by impeachment in the court’s history to date.

President George Washington nominated Chief Justice John Jay and the five other original high court justices after signing the Judiciary Act into law. The first Supreme Court session assembled on Feb. 2, 1790 in New York City. Due to travel difficulties — and perhaps some doubt about the court’s initial importance — only three of the six justices were present for the court’s opening session and official business had to wait for a fourth justice to arrive.

In 1791, the Supreme Court relocated to Philadelphia before finally coming to rest in its permanent home of the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., in 1800.

During the court’s early years, justices were required to travel around the country and hold circuit court twice a year in each judicial district. Travel routes were difficult and it could take the judges nearly 20 hours to get from city to city. Congress decided in 1793 that one circuit trip per year would suffice, but the duty wasn’t completely abolished until the late 19th century.

The early years of the court were primarily spent organizing and determining responsibilities — many scholars consider this to be a slow and ambiguous period in the court’s history as the judiciary struggled to get off the ground. The court didn’t actually hear a case until 1792, two years into its tenure and didn’t announce a major decision until Chisolm v. Georgia in 1793.

Initially, the judiciary was considered among the weakest and most obscure of the three branches of federal government. In fact, Alexander Hamilton called the Supreme Court the “least dangerous” of the branches in No. 78 of the Federalist Papers. That perception changed in large part after the 1801 appointment of Chief Justice John Marshall.

Appointed by President John Adams, Marshall is generally credited with harnessing and defining the power of the high court in such influential decisions as Marbury v. Madison, which allowed the court to evaluate the constitutionality of congressional legislation. Of the pivotal chief justice, President Adams is quoted by the Supreme Court Historical Society as saying, “My gift of John Marshall to the people of the United States was the proudest act of my life.”

The number of Supreme Court justices has changed six times as the demands and needs of the high court grew. Congress passed an act in 1948 establishing permanently the current composition of one Chief Justice and eight associate justices as part of its responsibility to assess and change the number of justices as necessary.

Terms and Traditions

Several closely guarded traditions are key to the function and image of the Supreme Court, and they have endured over the past two centuries. Most critical of these is the ability of the court to keep a private and tightly run ship while protecting its authority over the laws that govern the American public.

In accordance with legal statute, the Supreme Court term begins every year on the first Monday in October. The term generally lasts until late June. Terms used to officially “end” once the court had resolved all its current business, but due to the unpredictable need for the court to be called into action under special circumstances, terms were extended technically through the summer until thebeginning of the next term.

The high court’s sessions are generally divided between “sittings,” during which justices hear arguments and issue decisions, and “recesses,” during which they attend to other court business while discussing and constructing opinions or dissents.

Since around 1800, the nine justices have worn traditional black judge’s robes while hearing arguments or when appearing in an official capacity representing the court. In chambers, they sit around a crescent shaped judges bench in order of seniority — chief justice in the center and the eight associate justices staggered on his right and left based on their tenure on the court. Seniority is an important tradition in the court and provides order for much of the court’s procedure and the justice’s work, including what order they vote and speak during case conferences.

Justices also participate in the traditional “conference handshake” when they assemble to enter an argument session. All justices shake hands as they gather to enter the court, a tradition established by Chief Justice Melville Fuller in the late 1800s to symbolize the cohesiveness of all the judges in the court’s purpose, despite differences they may have in ideology. Justices partake in a similar conference handshake when meeting to review petitions before the court or voting to decide cases.

In earlier times, lawyers would wear formal “morning clothes” when addressing the high court, one tradition that has ebbed in modern times. According to the Supreme Court Historical Society, only lawyers from the Department of Justice or other lawyers representing the government still follow the formal dress tradition.

White quill pens are also a signature element of the Supreme Court. They are placed on counsel tables and are a popular souvenir for attorneys that have the opportunity to address the court.

Scheduled argument sessions begin promptly at 10 a.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays with the court marshall calling, “The honorable, the chief justice and the associate justices of the Supreme Court of the United States.”

As the justices enter the court, the Marshall gives the traditional call for silence, or “Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business before the honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the court is now sitting. God save the United States and this honorable court.”

Generally, two cases are heard per argument day. Since 1955 oral argument sessions have been taped to provide an audio record, but video cameras or any kind of photography is forbidden inside the courtroom.

Above all, the court’s secrecy could be considered its best-kept tradition. Of the numerous Washington government agencies, it remains virtually leak proof, with a loyal staff and tight security. Indeed the most insight into the court’s procedures come from the writings and remarks of the justices, such as the papers of the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, which are considered a wealth of information on the inner workings of the court.

Choosing and Hearing Cases

The Supreme Court’s caseload has increased steadily over the decades, but the process by which justices choose which cases to hear remains uniquely their own — and is considered by some to be the most important aspect of the high court’s review process.

The court regularly receives some 7,000 cases submitted for its review, most commonly in the form of requests for “writs of certiorari,” which are petitions from one or both sides of a case asking for the high court’s review. If the court decides to accept the petition, a “writ of cert” is issued, which essentially asks the appellate court to send their records to the Supreme Court for further review. In rare cases of great public importance, the high court can issue a writ of cert even before the lower court has heard the case.

In addition to the regularly submitted petitions, the justices also receive some 1,200 applications for various types of legal action each year. Applications, which are addressed to each justice based on the federal judicial circuit they are assigned, can be acted upon individually by the justices and usually involve some type of emergency action such as a stay of execution or an urgent restraining order.

The case screening process beings with the clerk of the court who examines each petition to ensure it is in proper form to be reviewed. The case then proceeds to the court’s law clerks — four handpicked staffers per justice who are usually top law school graduates or junior staffers at prestigious law firms, chosen to assist each justice for one term. The clerks begin the task of sorting through the petitions and determining which cases fall within the court’s jurisdiction and raise questions of appropriate constitutional and legal importance to merit the justices’ review.

Most of the justices gather their clerks together to form a “cert pool” to review the petitions. This process helps the busy law clerk staff to divide among themselves the task of writing memorandums analyzing the facts of worthy petitions. These memos go on to aid the justices in their decision on how to vote on a case’s fate.

After passing through the clerks, a petition then moves to consideration by the full complement of justices. Meeting in a closed conference room, the justices discuss which cases they believe are worthy of full deliberation and then vote aloud to determine the petition’s fate.

Under the so-called “Rule of Four,” at least four justices must vote to hear the case for it to move on to the docket. The most junior justice takes handwritten notes that will go on to produce the public announcement of the court’s order on the petition.

“Whether or not to vote to grant certiorari strikes me as a rather subjective decision, made up in part of intuition and in part of legal judgment,” Chief Justice William Rehnquist writes in his book, The Supreme Court. “One factor that plays a large part with every member of the Court is whether the case sought to be reviewed has been decided differently from a very similar case coming from another lower court: If it has, its chances for being reviewed are much greater than if it hasn’t.”

Justices who disagree with a majority decision to reject a case can issue a statement expressing their viewpoint, called a “Term Opinion Relating to Orders.”

Of the more than 7,000 petitions it receives, the court generally accepts about 150 cases for full review. Some three-quarters of the decisions on those cases are issued as fully published opinions.

“Most high courts in other nations do not have discretion, such as we enjoy, in selecting the cases that the high court reviews. Our court is virtually alone in the amount of discretion it has,” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said in an interview with three Cardozo University law professors in 2000.

“We are constantly grateful that Congress has seen fit to give the court that amount of discretion. We would drown in cases otherwise — cases that neither warrant nor merit the attention of the nine-member court,” O’Connor added.

Cases that are accepted for full court deliberation are next scheduled for oral arguments. Lawyers for each side of the case are given a strict 30-minute time limit during which to address the justices. Generally, the attorneys can expect direct and constant questions throughout their appearance before the high court. For most attorneys, addressing the Supreme Court is considered a major career distinction.

For the most part, oral arguments are considered a crucial stage of the process. In the book “The Supreme Court at Work” by Joan Biskupic and Elder Witt, the late Justice William Brennan is quoted as saying, “Oral argument is the absolute indispensable ingredient of appellate advocacy. … Often my whole notion of what a case is about crystallizes at oral argument. This happens even though I read the briefs before oral argument.”

The Decision Process

After the Supreme Court’s nine justices hear oral arguments, the decision process begins behind the closed doors of conference rooms.

The justices typically meet on Wednesdays and Fridays to vote on cases heard that week as well as consider new motions or petitions. Only justices attend these closed meetings, and the most junior justice will send for needed materials and take notes as necessary.

After voting, the most senior justice in the majority is responsible for deciding who will write the court’s opinion while the most senior justice on the minority side will also assign the dissent writer. In some cases, individual justices choose to add their own statements explaining why they voted for either viewpoint or express their disagreements with the way the majority opinion was written. But it is solely the majority opinion that will represent the decision of the court.

In his book, “The Supreme Court,” Chief Justice William Rehnquist explains the decision process: “Each member of the Court has done such work as he deems necessary to arrive at his own views before coming into the conference it is not a bull session in which off-the-cuff reactions are traded, but instead a discussion in which considered views are stated.”

For most of the justices, law clerks again play an important role in opinion drafting, conducting research and assisting at various stages of the revision process. During the process, the justices and their staffs often call upon the resources of the vast Supreme Court library, which contains more than 500,000 volumes of legal reference materials.

Justices have no timetable for when an opinion has to be issued, and they may spend months considering and honing opinions. Justices may also be pulled away to attend to other business in their assigned judicial circuit as opinions are hammered out, further lengthening the process.

Opinions and dissents are often written with great passion for their viewpoints, with justices occasionally trading barbs about each other’s views on an issue. Clashes tend to arise over individual methodologies of interpreting the Constitution coupled with differences in basic judicial ideologies.

According to court writings, justices can be swayed to one side of an argument or another as the opinion starts to take shape. Drafts are circulated as decisions evolve and a court opinion may have to be rewritten several times in order for a majority to retain all of its voters.

Assigned to write the majority opinion in a 1990 criminal case, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote to Chief Justice Rehnquist: “Dear Chief: Having been a specialist in converting draft majority opinions into dissents since my first term on the court, I can assure you that I will produce a draft with all deliberate speed.”

True to form, Stevens ultimately wound up in the dissent on the case, according to The Washington Post.

After all revisions and corrections are complete, a master proof is sent for printing under tight security. When the opinion is released, the court’s reporter of decisions writes a short summary, called “syllabus,” to encapsulate the opinions.

Justices will then briefly appear in the courtroom to announce the court’s opinion, occasionally reading portions of the opinion’s text. Dissenters are also given a chance to comment, an event that can produce exciting moments in the court’s chambers if justices choose to explain their position on a case.

A full term’s worth of written opinions, including dissents and orders, can amount to as many as 5,000 pages, according to Supreme Court records. The court’s opinion on a case is final — there can be no further appeals or exceptions, although issues sometimes return to the high court years later, where new justices may offer a different ruling on the same matter.


A CLOSER LOOK: The history and makeup of the Supreme Court

ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has eight associate justices and one chief justice, combined they are paid $2.34 million a year, according to the U.S. Courts Judicial Compensation for 2019.

Associate justices are paid $258,900 and the chief justice is paid $270,700. The group of nine is in session from October through June to August.

2009 Compensation: Associate Justices: $213, 900 Chief Justice: $223,500

2000 Compensation: Associate Justices: $173,600 Chief Justice: $181,400

1990 Compensation: Associate Justices: $118,600 Chief Justice: $124,000

John Roberts has been the chief justice since 2005. This is the guy who tries to bring the court together.

CURRENT ASSOCIATE JUSTICES

The September 2020 vacant seat was held by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who died Friday, September 18, at her home in Washington D.C., she was 87.

  • Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, North Little Rock 9/2019. Photo courtesy Sammi Blanchard.
  • Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, North Little Rock 9/2019. Photo courtesy Sammi Blanchard.
  • Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, North Little Rock 9/2019. Photo courtesy Sammi Blanchard.
  • Johanna and Shaun, Thomas went to N LR to hear Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 9/2019. Photo courtesy Johanna Thomas
  • Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, North Little Rock 9/2019. Photo courtesy Johanna Thomas.
  • Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, North Little Rock 9/2019. Photo courtesy Johanna Thomas.
  • Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, North Little Rock 9/2019. Photo courtesy Johanna Thomas.
  • Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, North Little Rock 9/2019. Photo courtesy Johanna Thomas.
  • Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, North Little Rock 9/2019. Photo courtesy Johanna Thomas.
  • Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, North Little Rock 9/2019. Photo courtesy Johanna Thomas.

Seventeen men have served as SCOTUS Chief Justice since it was created in 1789, this includes Chief Justice Roberts. A chief justice is nominated by the president and the U.S. Senate confirms. The person stays in that position until they die, retire, resign, or impeached.

The longest-serving justice was John Marshall (1755-1835), 34 years, until his death on July 6, 1835. John Rutledge served the shortest term of 138 days. He started on December 15, 1795, and ended 4 months and 16 days later.

WHY 9 JUSTICES?

“In large parts of the Constitution, there are certain elements that don’t get addressed and that is usually on the Judicial Branch. While the Constitution discusses how justices are selected, it doesn’t say how many will be sitting on the Supreme Court at any one time,” said University of Arkansas Political Science Professor Andrew Dowdle, “that is left to Congress and the President.”

For the first 80 years of American history, the number fluctuated. It started at six, went as low as five and at one point there were 10 justices. However, since 1869, there have been nine.

In part, the fluctuation was because as the country grew larger there was a need for more justices. “For the first 75 years, when the court was not in session, justices were supposed to go out into the rest of the country and supervise the lower federal circuit courts,” said Dowdle.

So, as the country ended up growing there was a need for more judicial circuit districts, therefore a need for more judges.

At the same time, partisan differences also affected the number of seats on the court.

“For example, the first time the presidency changed from one party to the other was in 1801. In the days before that transition, the Federalist Congress and President John Adams reduced the number of court seats to five to deprive Thomas Jefferson of the opportunity to fill a vacancy,” said Dowdle. “The Democratic Congress reversed the decision within months of taking power by the mid 19th century.”

However, since then there really has only been one serious challenge to a nine-member court.

In 1937-38, Franklin Roosevelt (D) was faced by a Supreme Court filled with justices appointed by prior Republican presidents. These justices invalidated many of the initial programs passed as part of the New Deal. Roosevelt began to support increasing the number of justices to as many as 15. This effort was known as court-packing. Not only did conservative justices oppose this, but the few liberal justices did as well. “They thought this would politicize the court and reduce its autonomy and legitimacy,” said Dowdle.

Associate Justice Owen Roberts was appointed by then-President Herbert Hoover and served from 1930-1945. In 1937, Roberts changed his position to generally opposing Roosevelt’s “New Deal” to supporting it. This was also known as “the switch in time that saved nine.”

Eventually, public offices due to court-packing, along with a number of vacancies on the court, helped to dissuade Roosevelt (and his allies in Congress) from this plan. Also, some historians believe this kept Roosevelt from further pursuing increasing the number of justices on the court, according to Dowdle.

What is the conclusion?

Whatever decision future presidents in Congress make, it seems certain that the composition of the court will be a major political debate for years to come.

In recent decades, the court has become more politicized. Partisans on both sides have called for their presidents to increase the number of justices they have on the court.

“Today, it is difficult to get 80 votes much less 90 or 96 from the Senate. The court is now more polarized because there is an argument about the court being politicized,” said Dowdle.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


Watch the video: HLS in the World. A Conversation with Six Justices of the. Supreme Court (September 2022).


Comments:

  1. Voodoor

    I used to think differently, thanks for the info.

  2. Adalwine

    Surely. I join all of the above. Let us try to discuss the matter.

  3. Dotaxe

    And really creative ... super!

  4. Ahura Mazda

    Super class !!!

  5. Codell

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