Policy Market Blog

Demographics of the SCOTUS

Martin Kennedy - Wednesday, September 26, 2018

African-Americans were nominated in 1967 (Thurgood Marshall) and in 1991 (Clarence Thomas).  Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman, was nominated in 1981.  Antonin Scalia, the first Italian, in 1986.  The first Hispanic, Sonia Sotomayer, arrived in 2009 (Ben Cardozo (1932) was a Sephardic Jew of Portuguese descent). 


Roger Taney, the first Catholic justice in 1836, authored the infamous Dred Scott decision in 1857.  It is considered to be among the worst decisions in the court’s history and contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War.  Two more Catholics were appointed before the start of the 20th century.

Eisenhower nominated William Brennan who remained the lone Catholic on the bench until Antonin Scalia arrived in 1986.  Then came Anthony Kennedy in 1988.  Clarence Thomas (1991).  John Roberts (2005) and soon after, Samuel Alito.  President Obama nominate Sonia Sotomayer.  Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch.  

Religious backgrounds of current justices: John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Sonia Sotomayer are Catholic.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Steven Breyer, and Elena Kagan are Jewish.

Just retired justice Anthony Kennedy is Catholic.  Neil Gorsuch is Catholic but attends an Episcopalian parish. 

TPM:  Senate hearings for SCOTUS nominees did not begin until Louis Brandeis, the first Jew, was nominated in 1916.  That wasn’t a coincidence.  Dropping the hearings all together strike us as a worthy consideration. 

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