supreme court vacancy: no experience needed

The passing of Antonin Scalia creates a Supreme Court vacancy. There’s a lot of politicking already, but Obama will probably nominate in the next month or two. Then, the Senate will likely approve a replacement. Maybe not the first nominee, but lots of justices have been approved in election years and usually in about three months.

What is more interesting in my view is the type of person who gets nominated. History shows that there is some variety. Some have long records as judges, while others have very little. The wiki list of nominees shows that recent nominees have legal experience, but often little judicial experience. Since 1990 (26 years), we’ve had nine distinct nominees:

  • Harriet Miers and Elena Kagan had no judicial experience. Kagan was nominated for the Federal bench by Clinton in the late 1990s, but the Senate refused to take the nomination.
  • Two justices had very short judicial careers: Thomas and Roberts had 2 years of experience each on Federal courts.
  • The rest had very long careers: Souter – 12 years on a state supreme court, Ginsberg had 13 years, Breyer had 18, Alito 16, Sotomayor has 17 years – all on Federal courts.

We have a huge range in experience with an even split between those with almost no experience and those with lots. My sense is that nominees are drawn from two pools of people – long time jurists whose “time has come” and fast track insiders. In other words, to get to the Supreme Court, be connected or get in line … and it’s a very long line.

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Written by fabiorojas

February 15, 2016 at 4:43 am

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