The Supreme Court vacancy caused by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has fueled more curiosity in the high court, as President Trump is set to announce his third nominee.
Read on for some historical facts about the court that you may not have known:
1. The Few, the Chosen
The next nominee to the Supreme Court would be just the 115th justice since 1789. During that time there have only been 17 chief justices. The average tenure of a justice is 16 years. Justice William Douglas is the longest-serving member of the court, 36 years, seven months from 1939-75. Justice John Rutledge served the shortest associate justice term, barely a year on the bench from 1790-91. Rutledge also served just five months as chief justice, also a record.
2. Numbers Game
The Constitution does not establish a set number of justices — leaving that to Congress. There were initially six members of the high court — then five, then seven, then nine, down to eight, up to 10 for a while, back down to eight, and then at last ticking up to nine in 1869.
3. From the Ground Up
The Supreme Court has only been in its current building since 1935, thanks to the efforts of Chief Justice William Howard Taft. After sitting in the early nation’s capitals of New York and Philadelphia, the justices for decades met in the Old Senate Chamber, sharing their cramped quarters for a time with the D.C .Orphans Court. The current building across the street from the Capitol was designed in Corinthian style of Greek architecture.
4. Symbolic Gestures
Representations of the role of courts and judges are everywhere on the Supreme Court’s grounds and building. Visitors should look for decorative turtles encircling the base of exterior lamp poles, symbols of the deliberative pace of justice. There are statues of Justice, holding sword and scales, and The Three Fates, weaving the thread of life. The elegant bronze doors at the top of the front steps weigh six and a half tons each. Many know the famous exterior inscription on the architrave “Equal Justice Under Law,” but at the rear of the building is another powerful carved message: “Justice the Guardian of Liberty.”
5. Ivy Roots
All eight current justices graduated from either Harvard (Roberts, Breyer, Kagan, Gorsuch) or Yale (Thomas, Alito, Sotomayor, Kavanaugh) law schools. Ginsburg attended Harvard but graduated from Columbia Law School.
6. Jewish Justices
Ginsburg was one of eight justices of the Jewish faith. Louis Brandeis was the first, joining the high court in 1916. Other Jewish justices were Benjamin Cardozo, Felix Frankfurter, Arthur Goldberg, Abe Fortas, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan. Brandeis’ nomination was the first in which the Senate asked questions of the nominee in its confirmation. Confirmation hearings, however, were closed to the public until 1929, in an effort to “promote candor,” according to the Senate historian.
7. In Fashion
As the court’s curator explains: “Judicial robes have long been thought to bring dignity and solemnity to judicial proceedings. Following the custom of English judges, some American colonial judges adopted the wearing of robes along with many other customs and principles of the English common law system. When the Supreme Court first met in 1790, the Justices had not settled on whether to wear robes, but in February 1792 they did appear in a standard set of robes for the first time, which one reporter referred to as ‘robes of justice.’ These robes are thought to have been black, trimmed with red and white on the front and sleeves. They were only used for a few years before the Justices adopted all black robes.”
8. Prior Experience
Eight members of the court once served as law clerks at their current professional home.
Byron R. White (Chief Justice Fred Vinson, 1946 term)
William H. Rehnquist (Justice Robert H. Jackson, 1952 term)
John Paul Stevens (Justice Wiley B. Rutledge, 1947 term)
Stephen G. Breyer (Justice Arthur J. Goldberg, 1964 term)
John G. Roberts, Jr. (Justice William H. Rehnquist, 1980 term)
Elena Kagan (Justice Thurgood Marshall, 1987 term)
Neil M. Gorsuch (for then-retired Justice Byron R. White and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, 1993 term). Gorsuch is the only justice to serve on the bench as a justice alongside his former boss — Kennedy.
Brett M. Kavanaugh (Justice Kennedy, 1993 term, serving with Gorsuch)
9. Fit for Duty
You may have seen Bryant Johnson paying his respects to Ginsburg in the U.S. Capitol rotunda. Johnson was her longtime personal trainer, and he performed three pushups in front of her casket, as a way of paying tribute. Ginsburg had worked with Bryant, an Army reservist, since 1999, when she was being treated for colorectal cancer. He supervised her famous workouts at the court’s small gym on the upper floors of the court building, where the diminutive justice bench-pressed an impressive 70 pounds. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor years earlier conducted yoga and exercise classes there.
10. 9 Things You May Not Know About the Justices
Roberts: Was initially nominated in 2005 to fill the seat of retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. But when William Rehnquist died of cancer that September, Roberts was re-nominated to become the 17th Chief Justice of the United States (his official title).
Thomas: A native of coastal Georgia, he grew up speaking the Gullah dialect at home, a Creole language unique to the African-American population in the region.
Breyer: Appeared on NPR’s quiz show “Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me” in 2007, cracking jokes and cheerfully pleading ignorance on the topic: rock ‘n’ roll.
Alito: An avid Philadelphia baseball fan, he attended a 1994 weeklong “Phillies Phantasy Camp,” and later threw out the first pitch at a team game.
Sotomayor: Earned the childhood nickname “Aji” (chili pepper) by her mother.
Kagan: As a member of the court’s internal cafeteria committee, she helped get a frozen yogurt machine installed — playfully calling it one of her greatest accomplishments.
Gorsuch: His wife Louise is British (as is Justice Breyer’s wife). They met on a blind date while both were attending Oxford University in 1995 and married a year later.
Kavanaugh: He met his wife Ashley when he worked in the White House and she was personal secretary to President George W. Bush. The president attended their 2004 wedding. Ashley is now the town manager in Chevy Chase Village, Md.
Ginsburg: Grew up wanting to be an opera singer, but realized her intellect would carry her farther than her voice.
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