Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | September 18, 2013

Demographics of Supreme Court Justices

O'Connor, Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Kagan

I am really enjoying this Wikipedia page, “Demographics of the Supreme Court of the United States.” I especially liked this paragraph:

Despite the efforts to achieve geographic balance, nineteen states have never produced a Supreme Court Justice. Some states have been over-represented (although partly because there were fewer states from which early justices could be appointed), with New York producing fifteen justices, Ohio producing ten, Massachusetts nine, Virginia eight, six each from Pennsylvania and Tennessee, and five from Kentucky, Maryland, and New Jersey. A handful of justices were born outside the United States, mostly from among the earliest justices on the Court. These included James Wilson, born in Fife, Scotland; James Iredell, born in Lewes, England; and William Paterson, born in County Antrim, Ireland. Justice David Josiah Brewer was born farthest from the U.S., in Smyrna, Asia Minor, (now İzmir, Turkey). George Sutherland was born in Buckinghamshire, England. The last foreign-born Justice, and the only one of these for whom English was a second language, was Felix Frankfurter, born in Vienna, Austria. It should be noted that the Constitution imposes no citizenship requirement on federal judges.

Fascinating stuff.

A curiosity of the current Supreme Court is that the Court currently consists of Catholics and Jews — six Catholic justices and three Jewish justices, to be precise. This has been the case since Justice Stevens, a Protestant, stepped down in 2010. (Incidentally, the US population as a whole is approximately 42% Protestant, 23% Catholic, and 2% Jewish.) There’s nothing wrong with this state of affairs, but it is unusual. Note that Article VI of the Constitution forbids any religious test for service as a federal judge or justice.

In a 2010 post, David Bernstein at the Volokh Conspiracy offers some speculation as to why the current Supreme Court consists of Catholics and Jews, as does Elesha Coffman in Christianity Today. And for what it’s worth, Justice Scalia has also spoken on the matter.

Image Credit: Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (retired), Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Justice Elena Kagan in the Justices’ Conference Room, prior to Justice Kagan’s Investiture Ceremony, October 1, 2010. Photo by Steve Petteway, photographer for the Supreme Court of the United States. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

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By happenstance, this is the 200th blog post on this blog.



  1. Ole Miss’s law school is named after L.Q.C. Lamar, the sole Mississippian to sit on the Supreme Court, and the subject of an obnoxious chapter in Profiles in Courage. That’s Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus, who also penned the Miss. secession proclamation, with the memorable line “by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun.” The “Lamar Order” is the name of the high-giving donors to the law school; apparently it’s considered an honor.

    • I will observe that Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus is a rather outstanding personal name, on a level with Augustus Noble Hand (first cousin to Learned Hand). Hard-core nerd.

      It does seem that Kennedy might have been wiser to chose a different exemplar of courage. (Praising a deceased political enemy requires courage, but not that much courage; and voting against bi-metallism is courageous…how exactly?)

      I wonder if Lamar Alexander (Senator, R-Tenn.) is named for ole’ L.Q.C.

    • He would have made a splendid consul.

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