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Supreme Court of the United States

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Judges: 9
Posts: 9
Vacancies: 0
Active judges
Chief: John Roberts
(Numbers indicate % of seats vacant.)
More than 40%

The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest judicial body in the country and leads the judicial branch of the federal government. It is often referred to by the acronym SCOTUS. [1]

The Court consists of nine Justices: the Chief Justice of the United States and eight Associate Justices. The justices are nominated by the President and confirmed with the "advice and consent" of the Senate per Article II of the United States Constitution. As federal judges, the justices serve during "good behavior," meaning they essentially serve for life. Justices may be removed from the Court only by impeachment and subsequent conviction. [2] The Supreme Court is the only Court established by the United States Constitution (in Article III); all other federal courts are created by Congress.

The Supreme Court meets in Washington, D.C., in the United States Supreme Court building. The Court's yearly term begins on the first Monday in October and lasts until the first Monday in October the next year. In mid-June, the Court generally releases the majority of its decisions. [2]


The Supreme Court holds both original and appellate jurisdiction, with its appellate jurisdiction accounting for most of the Court's caseload. The Court's original jurisdiction is narrowly focused, as defined in Article III, Section 2:

In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the Supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction.[3]
[2] The Court's appellate jurisdiction encompasses all cases within the scope of Article III, but is subject to limitation by Act of Congress under the Exceptions Clause in Article III and by the discretion of the Court.[2]

Article Three of the United States Constitution outlines the jurisdiction of the federal courts of the United States:

The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority; to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls; to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction; to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party; to Controversies between two or more States; between a State and Citizens of another State; between Citizens of different States; between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.[2][3]

In 1795, the Eleventh Amendment was ratified, which limited the jurisdiction of the federal courts. It says:

The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.[3]

Also, in individual circumstances, Congress has the authority to limit the Court's jurisdiction. One recent example of this was discussed in the case Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. At issue was the Detainee Treatment Act, in which the Congress states "'no court, justice or judge' shall have jurisdiction to consider the habeas application of a Guantanamo Bay detainee."

The power of the Supreme Court to consider appeals from state courts, rather than just federal courts, was created by the Judiciary Act of 1789 and upheld early in the Court's history, by its rulings in Martin v. Hunter's Lessee (1816) and Cohens v. Virginia (1821).

Under Article III of the United States Constitution, federal courts may only entertain "cases" or "controversies." Therefore, the Court avoids deciding cases that are moot and does not render advisory opinions. This exception is not absolute; if an issue is "capable of repetition yet evading review", the Court will address it even though the party before the Court would not himself be made whole by a favorable result.

How a Case Moves Through the Court

The vast majority of cases come before the Court by way of petitions for writs of certiorari, commonly referred to as "cert." The Court may review any case in the Federal Courts of Appeals "by writ of certiorari granted upon the petition of any party to any civil or criminal case".The Court may only review "final judgments rendered by the highest court of a state in which a decision could be had" if those judgments involve a question of federal statutory or constitutional law.

A cert petition is voted on at a session of the Court called a conference. A conference is a private meeting of the nine Justices by themselves; the public is not permitted to attend, and neither are the Justices' law clerks. If four Justices vote to grant the petition, then the case proceeds to the briefing stage; otherwise, the case ends. Except in death penalty cases and other cases in which the Court orders briefing from the respondent, the respondent may, but is not required to, file a response to the cert petition.

The Court grants a petition for certiorari only for "compelling reasons," spelled out in the Court's Rule 10. Such reasons include, without limitation:

  • to resolve a conflict in the interpretation of a federal law or a provision of the federal constitution
  • to correct an egregious departure from the accepted and usual course of judicial proceedings
  • to resolve an important question of federal law, or to expressly review a decision of a lower court that conflicts directly with a previous decision of the Court.

When a conflict of interpretations arises from differing interpretations of the same law or constitutional provision issued by different Federal Courts of Appeals, lawyers call this situation a "circuit split". If the Court votes to deny a cert petition, as it does in the vast majority of such petitions that come before it, it does so typically without comment. A denial of a cert petition is not a judgment on the merits of a case, and the decision of the lower court stands as the final ruling in the case.

To manage the high volume of cert petitions received by the Court each year (of the more than 7,000 petitions the Court receives each year, it will usually request briefing and hear oral argument in 100 or fewer), the Court employs an internal case management tool known as the "cert pool." [4][5]

When the Court grants a cert petition, the case is set for oral argument. At this point, both parties file briefs on the merits of the case, as distinct from reasons the parties may urge for granting or denying the cert petition. With the consent of the parties or approval of the Court, amici curiae may also file briefs. The Court holds two-week oral argument sessions each month from October through April. Each side has and half-hour to present its argument, and during that time the Justices can and do interrupt the advocate and ask questions of their own. The petitioner goes first, and may reserve some time to rebut the respondent's arguments after the respondent has concluded. Amici curiae may also present oral argument on behalf of one party if that party agrees. The Court advises counsel to assume that the Justices are familiar with and have read the briefs filed in a case.

At the conclusion of oral argument, the case is submitted for decision. Cases are decided by majority vote of the Justices. It is the Court's practice to issue decisions in all cases argued in a particular Term by the end of that Term. Within that Term, however, the Court is under no obligation to release a decision within any set time after oral argument. At the conclusion of oral argument, the Justices retire to another conference at which the preliminary votes are tallied, and the most senior Justice in the majority assigns the initial draft of the Court's opinion to a Justice on his or her side. Drafts of the Court's opinion, as well as any concurring or dissenting opinions, circulate among the Justices until the Court is prepared to announce the judgment in a particular case.

It is possible that, through recusals or vacancies, the Court divides evenly on a case. If that occurs, then the decision of the court below is affirmed, but does not establish binding precedent. In effect, it results in a return to the status quo ante. For a case to be heard, there must be a quorum of at least six justices.[6] If, because of recusals and vacancies, there is no quorum to hear a case and a majority of qualified justices believes that the case cannot be heard and determined in the next term, then the judgment of the court below is affirmed as if the Court had been evenly divided. For cases brought directly to the Supreme Court by direct appeal from a United States District Court, the Chief Justice may order the case remanded to the appropriate U.S. Court of Appeals for a final decision there.[7]

The Court's opinions are published in three stages. First, a slip opinion is made available on the Court's web site and through other outlets. Next, a number of opinions are bound together in paperback form, called a preliminary print of United States Reports, the official series of books in which the final version of the Court's opinions appears. About a year after the preliminary prints are issued, a final bound volume of U.S. Reports is issued. The individual volumes of U.S. Reports are numbered so that may cite this set of reporters -- or a competing version published by another commercial legal publisher -- to allow those who read their pleadings and other briefs to find the cases quickly and easily.

How cases are named

The party that lost in the lower court is called the petitioner, and the party that prevailed is called the respondent. All case names before the Court are styled Petitioner v. Respondent, regardless of which party initiated the lawsuit in the trial court. For example, criminal prosecutions are brought in the name of the state and against an individual, as in State of Arizona v. Ernesto Miranda. If the defendant is convicted, and his conviction then is affirmed on appeal in the state supreme court, when he petitions for cert the name of the case becomes Miranda v. Arizona.

The common shorthand name for cases is typically the first party (the appellant). For example, Brown v. Board of Education is referred to simply as Brown, and Roe v. Wade as Roe. The exception to this rule is when the name of a state, or the United States, or some government entity, is the first listed party. In that instance, the name of the second party is the shorthand name. For example, Iowa v. Tovar is referred to simply as Tovar, and Gonzales v. Raich is referred to simply as Raich, because the first party, Alberto Gonzales, was sued in his official capacity as the United States Attorney General.

Checks and Balances

The Constitution does not explicitly grant the Supreme Court the power of judicial review; nevertheless, the power of the Supreme Court to overturn laws and executive actions it deems unlawful or unconstitutional is a well-established precedent. Many of the Founding Fathers accepted the notion of judicial review; in Federalist Paper No. 78, Alexander Hamilton writes: "A constitution is, in fact, and must be regarded by the judges, as a fundamental law. It therefore belongs to them to ascertain its meaning, as well as the meaning of any particular act proceeding from the legislative body. If there should happen to be an irreconcilable variance between the two, that which has the superior obligation and validity ought, of course, to be preferred; or, in other words, the Constitution ought to be preferred to the statute." The Supreme Court first established its power to declare laws unconstitutional in Marbury v. Madison (1803), consummating the system of checks and balances.

The Supreme Court cannot directly enforce its rulings; instead, it relies on respect for the Constitution and for the law for adherence to its judgments. One notable instance of nonacquiescence came in 1832, when the state of Georgia ignored the Supreme Court's decision in Worcester v. Georgia. President Andrew Jackson, who sided with the Georgia courts, is supposed to have remarked, "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!"; however, this quotation is likely apocryphal. State militia in the South also resisted the desegregation of public schools after the 1954 judgment Brown v. Board of Education.


The Constitution provides that the salary of a Justice may not be diminished during his or her continuance in office. This clause was intended to prevent Congress from punishing Justices for their decisions. Together with the provision that Justices hold office for good behavior, this clause helps guarantee judicial independence. However, as seen above, the President's practice of appointing justices with similar real, perceived or expected ideology can be seen to compromise judicial independence.

Justices as Circuit Justices

The United States is divided into thirteen circuit courts of appeals, each of which is assigned a "Circuit Justice" from the Supreme Court. Although this concept has been in continuous existence throughout the history of the republic, its meaning has changed through time.

Under the Judiciary Act of 1789, each Justice was required to "ride circuit," or to travel within the assigned circuit and consider cases alongside local judges. This practice encountered opposition from many Justices, who complained about the difficulty of travel. Moreover, several individuals opposed it on the grounds that a Justice could not be expected to be impartial in an appeal if he had previously decided the same case while riding circuit. Circuit riding was abolished in 1891. Today, the duties of a "Circuit Justice" are generally limited to receiving and deciding requests for stays in cases coming from the circuit or circuits to which the Justice is assigned, and other clerical tasks such as addressing certain requests for extensions of time. A Circuit Justice may (but in practice almost never does) sit as a judge of that circuit; when he or she does, however, a Circuit Justice has seniority over the Chief Judge of that circuit.

The Chief Justice is traditionally assigned to the District of Columbia Circuit, the Federal Circuit and the Fourth Circuit, which includes Maryland and Virginia, the states surrounding the District of Columbia. Each Associate Justice is assigned to one or two judicial circuits.

Judicial posts

The United States Constitution does not specify the size of the Supreme Court; instead, Congress has the power to fix the number of Justices. Originally, the total number of Justices was set at six by the Judiciary Act of 1789. As the country grew geographically, the number of Justices steadily increased to correspond with the growing number of judicial circuits. The Court was expanded to seven members in 1807, nine in 1837 and ten in 1863. In 1866, however, Congress wished to deny President Andrew Johnson any Supreme Court appointments, and therefore passed the Judicial Circuits Act, which provided that the next three Justices to retire would not be replaced; thus, the size of the Court would eventually reach seven by attrition. Consequently, one seat was removed in 1866 and a second in 1867. By the Circuit Judges Act of 1869, the number of Justices was again set at nine (the Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices), where it has remained ever since. President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to expand the Court (the Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937); his plan would have allowed the President to appoint one new, additional justice for every justice who reached the age of seventy but did not retire from the bench, until the Court reached a maximum size of fifteen justices. Ostensibly, this was to ease the burdens of the docket on the elderly judges, but it was widely believed that the President's actual purpose was to add Justices who would favor his New Deal policies, which had been regularly ruled unconstitutional by the Court. This plan, referred to often as the Court Packing Plan, failed in Congress. The Court, however, moved from its opposition to Roosevelt's New Deal programs, rendering the President's effort moot. In any case, Roosevelt's long tenure in the White House allowed him to appoint eight Justices to the Supreme Court (second only to George Washington) and promote one Associate Justice to Chief Justice.[8]


Article II of the Constitution gives the President of the United States power to nominate justices, who are then appointed "by and with the advice and consent of the United States Senate." As a general rule, Presidents nominate individuals who broadly share their ideological views. In many cases, a Justice's decisions may be contrary to what the nominating President anticipated. A famous instance was Chief Justice Earl Warren; President Eisenhower expected him to be a conservative judge, but his decisions are arguably among the most liberal in the Court's history. Eisenhower later called the appointment "the biggest damn fool mistake I ever made."[9] Because the Constitution does not set forth any qualifications for service as a Justice, the President may nominate anyone to serve. However, that person must receive the confirmation of the Senate, meaning that a majority of that body must find that person to be a suitable candidate for a lifetime appointment on the nation's highest court.


In modern times, the confirmation process has attracted considerable attention from special-interest groups, many of which lobby senators to confirm or to reject a nominee, depending on whether the nominee's track record aligns with the group's views. The Senate Judiciary Committee conducts hearings, questioning nominees to determine their suitability. At the close of confirmation hearings, the Committee votes on whether the nomination should go to the full Senate with a positive, negative or neutral report.

The practice of the nominee being questioned in person by the Committee is relatively recent. The first nominee to testify before the Committee was Harlan Fiske Stone in 1925. Some western senators were concerned with his links to Wall Street and expressed their opposition when Stone was nominated. Stone proposed what was then the novelty of appearing before the Judiciary Committee to answer questions; his testimony helped secure a confirmation vote with very little opposition. The second nominee to appear before the Committee was Felix Frankfurter, who only addressed (at the Committee's request) what he considered to be slanderous allegations against him. The modern practice of the Committee questioning nominees on their judicial views began with the nomination of John Marshall Harlan II in 1955; the nomination came shortly after the Court handed down the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, and several Southern senators attempted to block Harlan's confirmation, hence the decision to testify.[10]

Once the committee reports out the nomination, the whole Senate considers it; a simple majority vote is required to confirm or to reject a nominee. Rejections are relatively uncommon; the Senate has explicitly rejected only twelve Supreme Court nominees in its history. The most recent rejection of a nominee by vote of the full Senate came in 1987, when the Senate refused to confirm Robert Bork.

Not everyone nominated by the President has received a floor vote in the Senate. Although Senate rules do not necessarily allow a negative vote in committee to block a Supreme Court nomination, a nominee may be filibustered once debate on the nomination has begun in the full Senate. A filibuster indefinitely prolongs the debate thereby preventing a final vote on the nominee. While senators may attempt to filibuster a Supreme Court nominee in an attempt to thwart confirmation, no nomination for Associate Justice has ever been filibustered. However, President Lyndon Johnson's nomination of sitting Associate Justice Abe Fortas to succeed Earl Warren as Chief Justice was successfully filibustered in 1968.

It is also possible for the President to withdraw a nominee's name at any time before the actual confirmation vote occurs. This usually happens when the President feels that the nominee has little chance of being confirmed. In 2005, President George W. Bush withdrew his nomination of Harriet Miers before committee hearings had begun, citing concerns about Senate requests during her confirmation process for access to internal Executive Branch documents resulting from her position as White House Counsel. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan withdrew the nomination of Douglas H. Ginsburg because of allegations of marijuana use.

Until the 1980s, the approval process of Justices was frequently quick. From the Truman through Nixon administrations, Justices were typically approved within one month. Since the Reagan administration, the process has taken much longer. Some speculate this is because of the increasingly political role Justices are said to play. [11]

Recess Appointments

When the Senate is in recess, the President may make a temporary appointment without the Senate's advice and consent. Such a recess appointee to the Supreme Court holds office only until the end of the next Senate session (at most, less than two years). To continue to serve thereafter and be compensated for his or her service, the nominee must be confirmed by the Senate. Of the two Chief Justices and six Associate Justices who have received recess appointments, only Chief Justice John Rutledge was not subsequently confirmed for a full term. No president since Dwight D. Eisenhower has made a recess appointment to the Supreme Court and the practice has become highly controversial even when applied to lower federal courts.


The Constitution provides that Justices "shall hold their Offices during good Behavior" (unless appointed during a Senate recess). The term "good behavior" is interpreted to mean that the Justices may serve for the remainder of their lives, although this is not compulsory as they may resign or retire voluntarily. A Justice may also be removed by impeachment and conviction by congressional vote, but only one Justice has ever been impeached by the House (Samuel Chase, in 1805) and he was acquitted by the Senate, making impeachment as a restraint on the Court something of a paper tiger. Moves to impeach sitting justices have occurred more recently (for example, William O. Douglas was the subject of hearings twice, once in 1953 and once in 1970), but they have not even reached a vote in the House.

Because Justices have life tenure, it is impossible to predict when a vacancy will next occur. Sometimes vacancies arise in quick succession, as in the early 1970s when Lewis Powell and William H. Rehnquist were nominated to replace Hugo Black and John Marshall Harlan II, who retired within a week of each other because of health problems and died shortly thereafter. Sometimes a great length of time passes between nominations such as the eleven years between Stephen Breyer's nomination in 1994 and the departures of Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (by death and retirement, respectively) in 2005.

Despite the variability, all but four Presidents so far have been able to appoint at least one Justice. The exceptions are William H. Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Andrew Johnson, and Jimmy Carter. Harrison died a month after taking office, though his successor, John Tyler made an appointment during that presidential term. Taylor likewise died early in his presidential term and an appointment was made before the term ended by Millard Fillmore. Johnson succeeded the assassinated Abraham Lincoln, and he was denied the opportunity to appoint a Justice by congressional action (see Size of the Court earlier in this article). Jimmy Carter is the only president to serve a full term without the opportunity to appoint at least one Justice.

Criticism of process

The process of nomination of Supreme Court Justices remains controversial in and of itself, and opposition to the current system because of beliefs of bias in appointments has existed since the creation of the Court. Historian Howard Zinn has claimed in his book A People's History of the United States that the justices cannot be independent, as the members are chosen by the president and ratified by the Senate. Likewise, he says that they cannot be neutral between the rich and the poor, as they are almost always from the upper class. He points specifically to their handling of the Sherman Anti-trust Act, which favored monopolies while opposing labor strikes, as well as their use of the Fourteenth Amendment to protect corporations more so than African-Americans, as proof of this.[12]

Seniority and Seating

During Court sessions, the Justices sit according to seniority, with the Chief Justice in the center, and the Associate Justices on alternating sides, with the most senior Associate Justice on the Chief Justice's immediate right, and the most junior Associate Justice seated on the left farthest away from the Chief Justice. Therefore, the current Court sits as follows from left to right when looking at the bench from the perspective of a lawyer arguing before the Court: Sotomayor, Breyer, Thomas, Scalia (most senior Associate Justice), Roberts (Chief Justice), Kennedy, Ginsburg, Alito, and Kagan (most junior Associate Justice).

Political Leanings

While justices do not represent or receive official endorsements from political parties, it is common for justices to be informally categorized in legal and political circles as being a judicial conservative, moderate, or liberal.

Five of the current justices of the Court were appointed by Republican presidents, while four were nominated by a Democratic president. It is popularly accepted that Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Alito and Thomas compose the Court's conservative wing. Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotamayor and Kagan are generally thought of as the Court's liberal wing. Justice Kennedy, generally thought of as a moderate conservative, is considered most likely to be the swing vote that determines the outcome of certain close cases.[13]

Federal courthouse

Historical courthouses

The Supreme Court first met on February 1, 1790, at the Merchants Exchange Building in New York City, then the national capital. Philadelphia became the capital city later in 1790, and the Court followed Congress and the President there, meeting briefly in Independence Hall, and then from 1791 to 1800 at Old City Hall at 5th and Chestnut Streets. After Washington, D.C., became the capital in 1800, the Court occupied various spaces in the United States Capitol building until 1935, when it moved into its own home at One First Street Northeast, Washington, DC.

Current courthouse

The four-story courthouse was designed in a classical style sympathetic to the surrounding buildings of the Capitol complex and Library of Congress by architect Cass Gilbert, and is clad in marble quarried chiefly in Vermont. The building includes space for the Courtroom, Justices' chambers, an extensive law library, various meeting spaces, and auxiliary services such as workshop, stores, cafeteria and a gymnasium. The Supreme Court building is within the ambit of the Architect of the Capitol, but maintains its own police force, separate from the Capitol Police.

See also

Further Reading

  • Beard, Charles A. (1912). The Supreme Court and the Constitution. New York: Macmillan Company. Reprinted Dover Publications, 2006. ISBN 0-486-44779-0
  • Garner, Bryan A. (2004). Black's Law Dictionary. Deluxe 8th ed. Thomson West. ISBN 0-314-15199-0.
  • Greenburg, Jan. (2007). Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control for the United States Supreme Court. New York: Penguin Press. ISBN 978-1-59420-101-1
  • McCloskey, Robert G. (2005). The American Supreme Court. 4th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-55682-4.
  • Toobin, Jeffrey. The Nine: Inside the secret world of the Supreme Court. Doubleday, 2007. ISBN 0-385-51640-1.
  • Urofsky, Melvin and Paul Finkelman. (2001). A March of Liberty: A Constitutional History of the United States. 2 vols. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-512637-8 & ISBN 0-19-512635-1.

External links


  1. The New York Times, "On Language' Potus and Flotus", October 12, 1997
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 The Supreme Court of the United States, A Brief Overview of the Supreme Court
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  4. Legal Times "Roberts Dips Toe Into Cert Pool" 10/21/2005
  5. Legal Times, "Justice Alito Joins Cert Pool Party" 7/4/2006
  6. [ U.S.C. Title 28, Section 1]
  7. FindLaw "U.S.C. Title 28, Section 1" Accessed 2007-10-30
  8. Justices, Number of. in Hall, Ely Jr., Grossman, and Wiecek (editors), The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. Oxford University Press 1992, ISBN 0-19-505935-6.
  9. [Presidents, Picking Justice, Can Have Backfires, Purdum, Todd S., July 5, 2005]
  10. [ United States Senate. "Nominations"]
  11. [1]
  12. Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States. New York: Perennial, 2003. p.260-261 ISBN 0060528370
  13. Kennedy Seen as The Next Justice In Court's Middle, The Washington Post, Lane, Charles January 31, 2006

Portions of this article have been taken and edited from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Copyright Notice can be found here.

Judges: 9
Posts: 9
Vacancies: 0
Active judges
Chief: John Roberts
(Numbers indicate % of seats vacant.)
More than 40%

Active Justices

Article III Justices

See: Article III federal judge
JudgeAppointed byActiveChiefPreceededBachelorsLaw
Associate justice Samuel AlitoW. Bush 1/31/2006-PresentSandra Day O'ConnorPrinceton University, 1972Yale Law, 1975
Chief justice John Roberts (Supreme Court)W. Bush 9/29/2005-Present9/29/2005-PresentWilliam RehnquistHarvard University, 1976Harvard Law, 1979
Associate justice Clarence Thomas (U.S. Supreme Court)H.W. Bush 7/1/1991-PresentThurgood MarshallCollege of the Holy Cross, 1971Yale Law School, 1974
Associate justice Antonin ScaliaReagan 9/26/1986-PresentWilliam RehnquistGeorgetown University, 1957Harvard Law School, 1960
Associate justice Stephen BreyerClinton 8/3/1994-PresentHarry BlackmunStanford University, 1959
Oxford University, 1961
Harvard Law School, 1964
Associate justice Ruth Bader GinsburgClinton 8/5/1993-PresentByron WhiteCornell University, B.A., 1954Columbia Law School, LL.B., 1959
Associate justice Anthony KennedyReagan 2/17/1988-PresentLewis PowellStanford University, 1958Harvard Law School, 1961
Associate justice Elena KaganObama 8/7/2010-PresentJohn Paul StevensPrinceton University, 1981Harvard Law School, 1986
Associate justice Sonia SotomayorObama 8/6/2009-PresentDavid SouterPrinceton University, 1976Yale Law School, 1979

Pending appointments

There are no pending nominations for the Supreme Court of the United States.

Past Justices

Retired Justices

Research suggests that justices often strategically plan their decisions to leave the bench, with personal, institutional, and partisan factors playing a role. The desire to maximize the Court's strength and legitimacy through one retirement at a time, when the Court is in recess, and during non-presidential election years suggests a concern for institutional health. Finally, if at all possible, justices seek to depart under favorable presidents and Senates to ensure that a like-minded successor will be appointed.

Retired justices may be designated for temporary assignments to sit with several United States Courts of Appeals. Nominally, such assignments are made by the Chief Justice; they are analogous to the types of assignments that may be given to judges of lower courts who have elected senior status, except that a retired Supreme Court Justice never sits as a member of the Supreme Court itself.

Former Chief Justices

Former Chief JudgesTerm
Frederick Vinson
William Howard Taft
William Rehnquist9/25/1986-9/3/2005
Warren Burger6/23/1969-9/26/1986
Earl Warren
Harlan Fiske Stone
Charles Evans Hughes
Edward Douglass White
Melville Weston Fuller
Morrison Waite1/21/1874-3/23/1888
Salmon Portland Chase
Roger Brooke Taney
Oliver Ellsworth
John Rutledge (Supreme Court)7/1/1795-12/28/1795
John Jay9/26/1789-6/29/1795
John Marshall (Supreme Court)

In order to qualify for the office of chief judge in one of the federal courts, a judge must have been in active service on the court for at least one year, be under the age of 65, and have not previously served as chief judge. A vacancy in the office of chief judge is filled by the judge highest in seniority among the group of qualified judges. The chief judge serves for a term of seven years or until age 70, whichever occurs first. The age restrictions are waived if no members of the court would otherwise be qualified for the position. Unlike the Chief Justice of the United States, a chief judge returns to active service after the expiration of his or her term and does not create a vacancy on the bench by the fact of his or her promotion.[1][2]

Former Justices

  1. John Marshall (Supreme Court)
  2. John Paul Stevens
  3. David Souter
  4. Joseph McKenna (Supreme Court)
  5. John Jay
  6. John Rutledge (Supreme Court)
  7. Oliver Ellsworth
  8. Roger Brooke Taney
  9. Salmon Portland Chase
  10. Morrison Waite
  11. Melville Weston Fuller
  12. Edward Douglass White
  13. Charles Evans Hughes
  14. Harlan Fiske Stone
  15. Earl Warren
  16. Warren Burger
  17. William Rehnquist
  18. James Iredell
  19. William Cushing
  20. Bushrod Washington
  21. William Brennan (U.S. Supreme Court)
  22. Sandra Day O'Connor
  23. John Blair (Supreme Court)
  24. Samuel Chase
  25. Thomas Johnson (U.S. Supreme Court)
  26. William Paterson
  27. James Wilson (U.S. Supreme Court)
  28. Alfred Moore (U.S. Supreme Court)
  29. William Johnson, Jr.
  30. Henry Brockholst Livingston
  31. Thomas Todd (U.S. Supreme Court)
  32. Gabriel Duvall
  33. Joseph Story
  34. Robert Trimble
  35. Smith Thompson
  36. Henry Baldwin
  37. Philip Pendelton Barbour
  38. John Catron
  39. Peter Vivian Daniel
  40. John McLean
  41. James Moore Wayne
  42. John McKinley
  43. Samuel Nelson
  44. Robert Cooper Grier
  45. Levi Woodbury
  46. Benjamin Robbins Curtis
  47. John Archibald Campbell
  48. Nathan Clifford
  49. David Davis (U.S. Supreme Court)
  50. Stephen Johnson Field
  51. Samuel Freeman Miller
  52. Noah Haynes Swayne
  53. Samuel Blatchford
  54. Joseph Bradley
  55. Henry Billings Brown (U.S. Supreme Court)
  56. Ward Hunt
  57. William Strong
  58. William Burnham Woods
  59. John Harlan I
  60. Stanley Matthews
  61. David Josiah Brewer
  62. Horace Gray
  63. Howell Edmunds Jackson
  64. William Howard Taft
  65. Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar
  66. Horace Harmon Lurton
  67. Rufus Wheeler Peckham
  68. George Shiras
  69. William Rufus Day
  70. Oliver Wendell Holmes
  71. William Henry Moody
  72. Edward Terry Sanford
  73. Willis Van Devanter
  74. John Harlan II
  75. Joseph Rucker Lamar
  76. Mahlon Pitney
  77. John Hessin Clarke
  78. James Clark McReynolds
  79. Louis Brandeis
  80. Pierce Butler
  81. George Sutherland
  82. Owen Josephus Roberts
  83. Benjamin Nathan Cardozo
  84. Hugo Black
  85. Frederick Vinson
  86. Stanley Reed
  87. William Douglas
  88. Felix Frankfurter
  89. Charles Whittaker
  90. Wiley Rutledge
  91. Frank Murphy
  92. Byron White
  93. Potter Stewart
  94. Lewis Powell
  95. Sherman Minton
  96. Thurgood Marshall
  97. Robert H. Jackson
  98. Arthur Goldberg
  99. Abe Fortas
  100. Tom Clark
  101. James Byrnes
  102. Harold Burton
  103. Harry Blackmun

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