Elections & Government
At age 48, Amy Coney Barrett is the youngest Supreme Court justice confirmed since 43-year-old Clarence Thomas in 1991. Barrett is the 58th justice successfully nominated to the Supreme Court by a Republican president and the first with a law degree from Notre Dame University. She is also the fifth woman ever to be on the nation’s highest court.
With the newest Supreme Court justice confirmed, here’s a look at the demographics and attributes of federal judges, including Supreme Court justices.
While federal judgeships are themselves nonpartisan, presidents nominate the candidates.
Since the Supreme Court was established in 1789, there have been 120 successful nominations made to the court. Fifty-seven were made by Republican presidents and 40 by Democrats. Five justices were successfully seated twice: once as associate justice then again as chief justice. The current Supreme Court has six justices nominated by Republicans and three by Democrats.
When including other federal courts — the district courts, courts of appeals, and the Court of International Trade — there are currently 824 federal judges. Of 816 sitting judges with available biographical information, 49.7% were appointed by Democratic presidents and 50.3% by Republicans.
The courts have historically been white and male. Although the courts have slowly become more diverse, non-Hispanic white men still make up 51% of all current federal judges.
Of the federal judges currently seated who have biographical data available, 74% percent are non-Hispanic white, compared with 60% of the US population. Meanwhile, women make up 33% of current active federal judges and 12% of the federal judges ever seated.
The first woman named to a federal judge's seat was Kathryn Sellers, appointed in 1918; the first non-white and first Black federal judge was William Hastie, appointed in 1949. Sandra Day O’Connor, nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, was the first woman to hold a Supreme Court seat.
At age 48, Barrett was confirmed below the median age of 54 for a Supreme Court justice. Since 1789, 48% of all Supreme Court seat openings have occurred due to a justice’s death. The fact that Barrett is relatively young may be an indicator of potential longevity in the seat.
The Constitution does not specify qualifications that must be met for someone to be nominated to the Supreme Court.
Fifteen of the last 20 justices confirmed received their law degree from Harvard or Yale Law School. In the past several decades, Supreme Court justices have increasingly attended the same law schools, one area where the court has become less diverse over time. The first eventual Supreme Court justice to get a JD was Earl Warren in 1914 from the University of California, Berkeley.
This pattern is not as prevalent among the non-Supreme Court judges. While Harvard and Yale are the most common law schools where current active federal judges earned their law degrees, they are far from a majority; 139 of 816 got a JD from Harvard or Yale Law School. Overall, the judges represent at least 146 different law schools. Eleven judges don't have JD degrees, although they have other types of legal degrees.
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