Study Notes

Supreme Court Justices

AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

Supreme Court Justices are the judges that serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. At present there are nine justices and this number is set by Congress as per Article III of the US Constitution. Nine justices has been the limit since 1869 and the Circuit Judges Act.

The court is headed by the Chief Justice of the United States. They preside over the court and when in the majority on case decisions will decide who writes the majority opinion. They also preside over the impeachment trial of the President in the US Senate. Finally they have the duty of administering the Presidential oath of office. The remaining seven justices are referred to as Associate Justices of the Supreme Court.

The current composition of the court is as follows (appointment year in brackets):

Chief Justice:

John G Roberts (2005)

Associate Justices:

Anthony Kennedy (1988)
Clarence Thomas (1991)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1993)
Stephen Breyer (1994)
Samuel Alito (2006)
Sonia Sotomayor (2009)
Elena Kagan (2010)

1 position is vacant following the death of Antonin Scalia in 2016

Justices are often categorised by their political leanings into conservatives and liberals. On the current court the breakdown is:

The conservative wing:

John G Roberts
Clarence Thomas
Samuel Alito
Anthony Kennedy

The liberal wing:

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Stephen Breyer
Sonia Sotomayor
Elena Kagan

On the outward appearance it would appear that the Supreme Court has an inbuilt conservative majority of 5-4, however Anthony Kennedy is the least conservative out of the conservative justices, and as such does from time to time side with the liberal wing. This is known as being the swing vote.

Update following the death of Justice Scalia:

With the death of Scalia, the balance of the court has altered, it is now deadlocked between four conservative justices and four liberal justices. If a case ends up in a tied vote, the ruling of the lower court will prevail. A new Supreme Court justice will likely affect the ideological balance.

© 2002-2024 Tutor2u Limited. Company Reg no: 04489574. VAT reg no 816865400.