J is for Justices

The only way a Supreme Court Justice can be removed is through impeachment (indictment) by the House of Representatives, and conviction by the Senate.


On the United States Supreme Court, the nine judges are called justices. There have been 110 justices since 1789, with 17 of them having served as Chief Justice, not counting some in temporary positions due to the death or retirement of the Chief Justice.

Someone nominated by the President, and ratified by the U.S. Senate by a majority vote, can serve for life. The idea was that the judiciary not be affected by the whims of pedestrian politics. Not that that hasn’t happened on occasion.

Here’s a list of Supreme Court members. I can tell that this picture was taken after the 2006 retirement of Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman ever to serve on the high court, replaced by Samuel Alito, and before the 2009 retirement of David Souter. There is a particular order in these pictures. The Chief Justice, in this case, John Roberts, is always front and center, literally. To his left, from your point of view, is the justice with the most seniority, in this case, 2010 retiree John Paul Stevens. To the right of the CJ is the next person in terms of seniority, Antonin Scalia, followed by (far left front) Anthony Kennedy, (far right front) Souter, (near left back) Clarence Thomas, (near right back) Ruth Bader Ginsburg, (far left back) Stephen Breyer and (far right back) Alito.

Here are the biographies of the current Court members, plus recent retirees.

Only four Presidents have never gotten a nomination confirmed: William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Andrew Johnson (who did try), and Jimmy Carter. Of those, only Carter served a full term as President, though Johnson, who was impeached, nearly did.

And speaking of impeachment, the only way a Supreme Court Justice can be removed is through impeachment (indictment) by the House of Representatives, and conviction by the Senate. And only one justice, Samuel Chase has ever been impeached, though not convicted.

The first Roman Catholic on the bench was Roger Taney (1836), the chief justice who delivered the dreadful Dred Scott decision (1857). The first Jewish person was Louis Brandeis in 1916. So it is interesting that the current court consists of six Catholics, three Jews, and none of the Protestants who had dominated the courts for centuries.


The first black on the bench was Thurgood Marshall (1967), who appeared before the court in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education (1954) anti-discrimination case; Clarence Thomas is the second. Marshall is not the only justice to move from lawyer before the court to justice on the court; e.g., Abe Fortas was the lead attorney in Gideon v. Wainwright (1962), which ruled that state courts are required under the Sixth Amendment to provide counsel in criminal cases for defendants unable to afford their own attorneys.

The first woman, as noted, was Sandra Day O’Connor (1981). There are now three women on the court, and there have been four in total. In the current picture, Thomas and Bader Ginsburg have made it to the front row. The newbies are Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic on the Court (2009), and Elena Kagan.

ABC Wednesday – Round 8