Skip to main content

Supreme Court Justices: Interesting Things You Should Know

Margaret Minnicks has been an online writer for many years. She writes about interesting things.


There has been a lot of talk in the news after the recent death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who died at the age of 87 on September 18, 2020. She had been diagnosed with lung cancer, colon cancer and pancreatic cancer. A new justice will replace Ginsburg's seat to bring the total of the justices back up to nine. Therefore, it would be good to know some things about that interesting position and its history.

This article will be limited to rules and regulations of the constitution instead of getting into the beliefs and cases of individual justices over the years.

Lifetime Appointment

A person appointed to the position of a justice of the Supreme Court never has to submit another resume or go on another job interview. That's because a justice's position is set for a lifetime.

All justices have job security. The only way a justice can leave the position is by retirement, impeachment or death.

Number of Justices

The Constitution sets one Supreme Court, but it does not set the number of justices that must be appointed to it. Since 1869, there have been one chief justice and eight associate justices. However, there hasn't always been that number on the bench.

Here are what the numbers have been in the past:

  • The Judiciary Act of 1789 set the number at six: a chief justice and five associate justices.
  • In 1807, Congress increased the number of justices to seven.
  • in 1837, the number was increased to nine.
  • In 1863, the number went up to 10.
  • In 1866, Congress passed the Judicial Circuits Act, which decreased the number of justices back down to seven.
  • In 1869, Congress raised the number of justices to nine, where it has stands today.
  • In 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt tried to convince Congress to allow new justices to be added to the court for a total of up to 15 members. Congress didn't accept Roosevelt's plan.

Salaries of Justices

There are two major salaries among the justices. In 1789, the Chief Justice earned $4,000 a year, and the Associate Justices were paid $3,500 a year. In 2020, the Chief Justice receives a yearly salary of $277,700. The Associate Justices are paid $265,600 each year.

The salaries of the justices can never be reduced, according to Article III, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution. However, the salaries may be increased during their time in office. The salaries are usually increase by $2,000 to $3,000 each year.

Besides salaries, the justices have many perks.They have a generous retirement package even though most of them don't retire. If they retire at 70 after serving 10 years, or at 65 after serving 15 years, they qualify for an annual pension equal to their highest full salary.

The court is not in session between July and October. It is not really a vacation because the justices use the time to prepare for cases for the fall, but they do most of their subsidized traveling during that time. They are free to lecture and teach for a hefty paycheck. Justices get paid royalties for any books they write.

Most or all of the justices are millionaires with an average net worth of about $6 million. Some have as much as $11 million, according to the Center for Public Integrity.


No Official Rules

The Constitution lists the rules for running for President of the United States and members of Congress. It is clear about age, citizenship, and residency requirement. There are no such rules for those being appointed to the highest court in the nation.

Age: The youngest associate justice ever appointed was Joseph Story who was 32 years old when he joined the bench in 1811. Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., who served from 1902 to 1932, retired at age 90, making him the oldest person ever to sit on the court.

Nationality: Six justices have been foreign born. The most recent, Felix Frankfurter, who served on the court from 1939 to 1962, was a native of Vienna, Austria.

Scroll to Continue

Every justices who has every served were all lawyers.

Appointment By Presidents

The President of the United States has the sole power to nominate Supreme Court justices whenever there are openings on the court, and each nomination must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Here are some of the presidents' appointments.

  • George Washington made 11 appointments to the court.
  • Franklin Roosevelt made 9 appointments.

Those are the exceptions because most other presidents appointed from 1-5 with the average number being just 2.

Four presidents did not make any appointments at all: Andrew Johnson, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, and Jimmy Carter.

To date, presidents have submitted 160 nominations. Of that total, 124 were confirmed, with seven of them deciding not to take the appointment.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg March 15, 1933 – September 18, 2020

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg March 15, 1933 – September 18, 2020

Justices With the Longest Appointments

Justices are appointed for life. Here is a list of those who have served the longest.

  • Associate Justice William O. Douglas served 36 years on the bench, from April 1939 to November 1975, the longest tenure of any justice in the court’s history.
  • Of the current justices, Clarence Thomas has been the one with the longest appointment. He has served for 28 years since October 1991.
  • Before Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on September 18, 2020, she had served 27 years.

Although justices are appointed for life, more than 50 have chosen to retire or resign, including John Jay, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Charles Evan Hughes, Earl Warren, Thurgood Marshall, and Sandra Day O’Connor.

Only one justice ever has been impeached. In 1804, Samuel Chase was accused of acting in a partisan way during court proceedings. He was acquitted and remained on the bench until his death in 1811.

How Cases Are Allocated

William Howard Taft became the 27th president from 1909 to 1913. During that time, he appointed five associate justices and Chief Justice Edward Douglass White. After Taft was not elected for a second term as president, President Warren Harding appointed Taft as White’s replacement after White's death. It is interesting that Taft took the seat of the one he had appointed chief justice. By the way, Taft was the only one who went from President of the United States to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

As Chief Justice, Taft was responsible for the passing the Judiciary Act of 1925, which enabled the justices to choose the cases they wanted to hear. That doesn't happen today. At least four justices must vote to grant a petition to review a case before it can be heard by the court.

Not all requests to review cases are honored. The court receives over 10,000 requests each year. However, only about 80 cases are heard.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Cheryl E Preston from Roanoke on September 29, 2020:

Thanks, Margaret. A lot of people will probably benefit from this information. You really gave a lot of it.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on September 29, 2020:

So well done. No wasted words and accurate and informative. Thanks.

Related Articles