Supreme Court Longevity An Issue, As Recent Justices Have Stayed Much Longer Than Average, Including Contested Nominee Clarence Thomas

In the midst of the controversy over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is the reality of how long he might serve.

There has been a trend whereby recent Supreme Court Justices serve much longer than historically traditional.

Right now, contested Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who was confirmed in 1991 despite strong testimony of Anita Hill, has served 27 years on the Court, and is already number 24 in longevity of service out of 113 members of the Court in American history. He will be number 17 in two years and number 13 in four years. In May 2028, he would break the all time record of 36 years and nearly 7 months of Justice William O. Douglas, and Thomas would be just about a month short of age 80, and can be seen as likely, if he stays healthy, to accomplish this goal.

If one just looks at the top fourth of all Supreme Court Justices in longevity, a total of 31 out of 113, all 24 years or more of service, we find the following recent Justices, all appointed since the 1950s, are on the list:

John Paul Stevens
William Brennan
William Rehnquist
Byron White
Anthony Kennedy
Antonin Scalia
Clarence Thomas
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Sandra Day O’Connor
Harry Blackmun
Stephen Breyer
Thurgood Marshall

In the earlier history of the Supreme Court, the average length of service was about 15 years by comparison.

That is why the idea, proposed by this author two days ago, that a future Supreme Court Justice be limited to an 18 year term, allows for turnover, and prevents dominance by an ideological minority for decades, as now is threatened by Brett Kavanaugh, or another extreme right wing appointment by Donald Trump.