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Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, left, turned 85 on March 15. Justice Stephen Breyer, right, will turn 80 on Aug. 3. This photo shows the justices at the 2012 State of the Union address by President Barack Obama. (AP file photo)
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, left, turned 85 on March 15. Justice Stephen Breyer, right, will turn 80 on Aug. 3. This photo shows the justices at the 2012 State of the Union address by President Barack Obama. (AP file photo)

Bar Buzz: A court for the ages

If Donald Trump appoints two more U.S. Supreme Court justices during his term, an actuarial analysis indicates, he will be responsible for fully 16 percent of all projected SCOTUS appointments to be made over the 100-year period that began with his inauguration.

If the Trump era produces an unlikely fifth pick, he would be responsible for one-fifth of the century’s projected appointments, according to an analysis by the Oliver Wyman Group’s actuarial practice.

Wyman, a New York-based management consulting firm, projects that presidents will make a total of 25 SCOTUS picks over the 100-year period from 2017 to 2117, a sharp drop from the previous 100 years.

The projection includes Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch, 50, and retiring Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy’s expected replacement. Brett Kavanaugh, 53, is nominated but not yet been confirmed for that slot. So just 23 more picks will be made over the period, according to Wyman.

Wyman bases its projections on two factors—the presidential tendency to pick youthful justices and rising life expectancies.

Its actuarial analysis produced three main findings:

  • Justices’ average tenure will more than double to 35 years over the next century, according to projections. Tenures averaged a comparatively paltry 17 years over the previous 100 years. In all U.S. history to date, only 14 U.S. Supreme Court justices have ever served 30 years or more.
  • There likely will be about half as many appointees over the next century compared to the previous 100 years. From 1917 to 2017 there were 47 appointees. There were 61 between 1861 and 1961.
  • Trump is unlikely to get a fifth pick. Wyman calculates just a 3 percent chance that any president serving two terms over the next century will nominate five or more justices. Only six presidents ever done that, led by George Washington’s 11 appointments. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was president for 12 years, appointed nine.

If accurate, Wyman’s projections would extend ongoing trends, the company’s data indicates.

The average age of the last 25 SCOTUS appointees at the time they swore their oaths was a youthful 53.5 years old, Wyman finds. The average age of the last seven SCOTUS justices to voluntarily leave the court was 80.7 years.

Two of the court’s justices are either there or nearly there. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg turned 85 on March 15. Justice Stephen Breyer will turn 80 on Aug. 3.

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