Membership of Supreme Court

Membership of Supreme Court

Membership of the Supreme Court

Basic Structure

  • The United States Supreme Court is composed of nine Justices: one Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices.
  • Appointments to the Supreme Court are for life, which means Justices serve until they pass away, retire, or are impeached and convicted by Congress.

Appointment and Confirmation of Justices

  • Supreme Court Justices are nominated by the President and, if approved by the Senate, appointed to the Court.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee typically conducts confirmation hearings for each nominee. This involves public hearings and debate, followed by a committee vote.
  • If a majority of the Judiciary Committee approves the nominee, the nomination proceeds to the full Senate. A simple majority vote is required for the Senate to confirm and appoint the nominee.

Background of Supreme Court Justices

  • Justices come from varying professional and educational backgrounds, although most hold law degrees and have worked as judges, academics or in legal practice.
  • It has become increasingly common for nominees to have prior judicial experience.
  • Only a third of all justices in Supreme Court history have had prior experience on the bench.

Diversity and Representation

  • The Supreme Court’s representation of gender, race, and other demographic characteristics is a constant matter of debate.
  • The first woman to serve as a Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, was only appointed in 1981.
  • As of 2020, only three women serve on the Supreme Court.
  • The first African American Justice, Thurgood Marshall, was appointed in 1967. As of 2020, only three African American Justices have ever served.

Ideological Balance

  • Supreme Court Justices don’t represent constituencies and are not expected to be representative in the same way as elected officials.
  • However, over time, the idea of an ideological balance on the Court has become more prominent. Presidents will often attempt to nominate Justices they believe align ideologically with them.
  • This has led to a fairly consistent conservative-liberal split on the court, with many decisions split along these ideological lines.


  • One criticism of the Supreme Court’s membership is its lack of term limits, leading to Justices serving for decades and potentially creating a disconnect with the modern society and law they interpret.
  • Critics often express concern over the intense politicisation of recent confirmation processes, which threaten the perceived impartiality of the Court.
  • Additionally, the lack of diversity on the Supreme Court has been criticised for not fully representing the demographic makeup of the United States.