Justices of the Supreme Court

The Roberts Court 2011
Seated left to right: Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Standing left to right: Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Justice Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr., Justice Elena Kagan.
There are nine United States Supreme Court Justices, the Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices, each of whom are appointed to serve for life. Today's Supreme Court consists of the following Justices:
  • Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.
  • Associate Justice Antonin Scalia
  • Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy
  • Associate Justice Clarence Thomas
  • Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  • Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer
  • Associate Justice Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr.
  • Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor
  • Associate Justice Elena Kagan
Chief Justice John G. Roberts

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.

JOHN G. ROBERTS, JR., Chief Justice of the United States, was born in Buffalo, New York, January 27, 1955. Nominated as Chief Justice of the United States by President George W. Bush, Justice Roberts took his seat on September 29, 2005. Education:
  • A.B. from Harvard College in 1976
  • J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1979.
Former Employment:
  • Law clerk for Henry J. Friendly of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from 1979 to 1980
  • Law clerk for then-Associate Justice William H. Rehnquist of the Supreme Court of the United States during the 1980 Term.
  • Special Assistant to the Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice from 1981 to 1982
  • Associate Counsel to President Ronald Reagan, White House Counsel's Office from 1982 to 1986
  • Principal Deputy Solicitor General, U.S. Department of Justice from 1989 to 1993.
  • Appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2003.
  • From 1986 to 1989 and 1993 to 2003, he practiced law in Washington, D.C.
Interview: Interview with Chief Justice John G. Roberts, JrC-SPAN broadcast a short interview with Chief Justice John G. Roberts.  Chief Justice Roberts recalled his first oral argument before the Court, United States v. Halper, 490 U.S. 435 (1989). He admitted to being nervous when he practiced before the Court as an attorney, stating that "If you're a lawyer appearing before the Supreme Court and you are not very nervous, you don't really understand what's going on."  Offering advice to lawyers appearing before the Supreme Court for oral argument, Chief Justice Roberts recommends, "You have to answer the questions.  Don't try to avoid the questions or distinguish your case in any way." He recommends that, "You have to appreciate that the justices are engaged in the process of trying to help themselves decide the case correctly. . . They like you to be part of the process that is helping them come to the right result."  Chief Justice Roberts suggests that a lawyer should try to convince the judges that he is on their side in helping them reach the right decision.

Associate members of the Roberts Court

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia

Nominated as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, President Ronald Reagan Justice Scalia took his seat September 26, 1986. Justice Scalia has labeled himself a textualist. Under this approach to the interpretation of law, Justice Scalia believes judges should be guided by the original meaning of the text of statutes and the Constitution, and not by the meanings as evolved over time. Justice Scalia has recently been promoting his new book, "Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts" available from Amazon. Education:
  • A.B. from Georgetown University and the University of Fribourg, Switzerland
  • LL.B. from Harvard Law School
  • Sheldon Fellow of Harvard University from 1960–1961
Former Employment:
  • Private practice attorney in Cleveland, Ohio from 1961–1967
  • Professor of Law at the University of Virginia from 1967–1971
  • Professor of Law at the University of Chicago from 1977–1982
  • Visiting Professor of Law at Georgetown University and Stanford University
  • Chairman of the American Bar Association’s Section of Administrative Law, 1981–1982
  • American Bar Association Conference of Section Chairmen, 1982–1983.
  • General Counsel of the Office of Telecommunications Policy from 1971–1972
  • Chairman of the Administrative Conference of the United States from 1972–1974
  • Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel from 1974–1977
  • He was appointed Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1982
Interview: C-SPAN Interview with Justice Antonin Scalia

In this brief excerpt of less than 2 minutes from a C-SPAN interview, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia advises that unless you know the materials they are working with, "Be slow to judge judges." Justice Scalia explains that a good judge very often does not like his own decision, because a good judge does not make law, but rather follows the law that the people have adopted. "If it is a foolish law, you are bound by oath to produce a foolish result."  Justice Scalia asks those who would question a decision to, "Read the opinion and see what provisions of law were at issue, and what they were trying to reconcile, and whether they did an honest job or reconciling them."  Justice Scalia notes that what counts is for judges do the job of "interpreting the words of the law in a fair fashion."

Justice Scalia speaks about his book, "Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts", and discuses in detail his philosophy on originalism and textualism in the following Fox News Sunday interview with Chris Wallace:


"Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts" is available at Amazon.com.


Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy

Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy

Nominated as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan, Justice Kennedy took his seat February 18, 1988. Born: Sacramento, California, July 23, 1936. Education:
  • B.A. from Stanford University and the London School of Economics
  • LL.B. from Harvard Law School.
Former Employment:
  • Private law practice in San Francisco, California from 1961–1963, and Sacramento, California from 1963–1975.
  • Professor of Constitutional Law at the McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific 1965 to 1988
  • California Army National Guard in 1961
  • Board of the Federal Judicial Center from 1987–1988
  • Advisory Panel on Financial Disclosure Reports and Judicial Activities (subsequently renamed the Advisory Committee on Codes of Conduct) from 1979–1987
  • Committee on Pacific Territories from 1979–1990, Chairman from 1982–1990.
  • Appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 1975.
Interview: C-SPAN Interview with Justice Anthony KennedyC-SPAN shares an altogether too short interview with Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy.  Asked if there are ever any dark days at the Supreme Court, Justice Kennedy notes that, "When you cannot convince your colleagues, then you think it is a dark day . . . but you go on to the next case, and you respect your colleagues."

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas

Nominated as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court by President George Bush, Justice Thomas took his seat October 23, 1991. Born: near Savannah, Georgia, June 23, 1948. Education:
  • A.B. from Holy Cross College, cum laude
  • J.D. from Yale Law School in 1974
Former Employment:
  • Assistant Attorney General of Missouri from 1974–1977
  • Attorney with the Monsanto Company from 1977–1979
  • Legislative Assistant to Senator John Danforth from 1979–1981
  • Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education from 1981–1982
  • Chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from 1982–1990
  • Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1990
Interview: Clarence Thomas C-SPAN interviewC-SPAN conducted a rare 48 minute interview with Associate Justice Clarence Thomas on June 29, 2009.  Justice Thomas seldom speaks during oral argument, and here he explains why.  You will take away from this interview a new appreciation for the dedication and personality of Justice Thomas, and his approach to the decision process.  We highly recommend that you take the time to view this video.

Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Nominated as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court by President Clinton, she took her seat August 10, 1993. Born: Brooklyn, New York, March 15, 1933. Education:
  • B.A. from Cornell University
  • attended Harvard Law School
  • LL.B. from Columbia Law School
Former Employment:
  • Law clerk to the Honorable Edmund L. Palmieri, Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, from 1959–1961.
  • Research Associate and then Associate Director of the Columbia Law School Project on International Procedure from 1961–1963
  • Professor of Law at Rutgers University School of Law from 1963–1972
  • Professor of Law at Columbia Law School from 1972–1980
  • Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Stanford, California from 1977–1978
  • In 1971, she was instrumental in launching the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union
  • ACLU General Counsel from 1973–1980
  • ACLU National Board of Directors from 1974–1980
  • Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1980
Interview: C-SPAN Interview with Ruth Bader GinsburgIn this brief C-SPAN interview with Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she discusses her close friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia.  While they are very different in their thinking, they are very good friends.  Justice Ginsburg has known Antonin Scalia since he was a law professor.  In a particular lecture given by Professor Scalia, she disagreed with most of what he said, but loved the way he said it. She speaks of being taken by Justice Scalia's "wit and wonderful sense of humor," and notes that he is a "very amusing fellow."  Justice Ginsburg says that Justice Scalia is a "very good writer" who cares about how he says things.

Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer

Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer

Nominated as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court by President Clinton, Justice Breyer took his seat August 3, 1994. Born:  San Francisco, California, August 15, 1938. Education:
  • A.B. from Stanford University
  • B.A. from Magdalen College, Oxford
  • LL.B. from Harvard Law School
Former Employment:
  • Law clerk to Justice Arthur Goldberg of the Supreme Court of the United States during the 1964 Term
  • Special Assistant to the Assistant U.S. Attorney General for Antitrust, 1965–1967
  • Assistant Special Prosecutor of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force, 1973
  • Special Counsel of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, 1974–1975
  • Chief Counsel of the committee, 1979–1980
  • Assistant Professor, Professor of Law, and Lecturer at Harvard Law School, 1967–1994
  • Professor at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, 1977–1980
  • Visiting Professor at the College of Law, Sydney, Australia
  • Visiting Professor at the University of Rome
  • Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit from 1980–1990
  • Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, 1990–1994
  • Member of the Judicial Conference of the United States, 1990–1994
  • United States Sentencing Commission, 1985–1989
Interview: Interview with Justice Steven BreyerFrom C-SPAN's series of Supreme Court Justice interviews, we get two minutes with Associate Justice Steven Breyer.   Justice Breyer explains that his job is reading and writing, and jokes how he has told his son, "Do your homework really well, then you'll get a job; you can do homework the rest of your life."

Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.

Associate Justice Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr.

Nominated as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court by President George W. Bush, Justice Alito took his seat January 31, 2006. Born: Trenton, New Jersey, April 1, 1950. Education:
  • Princeton University
  • Yale Law School
Former Employment:
  • Law clerk for Leonard I. Garth of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit from 1976–1977
  • Assistant U.S. Attorney, District of New Jersey, 1977–1981
  • Assistant to the Solicitor General, U.S. Department of Justice, 1981–1985
  • Deputy Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, 1985–1987
  • U.S. Attorney, District of New Jersey, 1987–1990
  • Appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in 1990
Interview: Interview with Justice AlitoC-SPAN shares a couple minutes of its interview with Associate Justice Alito.  Justice Alito discusses a Princeton yearbook quote where he had joked that one day he wanted to "warm a seat on the Supreme Court."  Justice Alito talks about first being interviewed by the White House four years prior to his ultimate appointment to the Supreme Court.

Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Nominated as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama, Justice Sotomayor, took her seat August 8, 2009. Born: Bronx, New York, on June 25, 1954. Education:
  • B.A. from Princeton University, 1976, graduating summa cum laude and receiving the university's highest academic honor
  • J.D. from Yale Law School, 1979; Editor of the Yale Law Journal
Former Employment:
  • Assistant District Attorney in the New York County District Attorney's Office from 1979–1984
  • Associate and then Partner at Pavia & Harcourt where she litigated international commercial matters in New York City from 1984–1992
  • Judge on U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, from 1992–1998
  • judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from 1998–2009
Interview: Justice Sonia Sotomayor C-SPAN televised a 38 minute interview with Justice Sotomayor soon after her appointment to the Court.  She discusses the call from President Obama asking her to be his nominee, the confirmation process, and her first impressions of her new career.

  Associate Justice Elena Kagan

Associate Justice Elena Kagan

Nominated as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama to succeed Justice John Paul Stevens. Justice Kagan took her seat August 7, 2010. Born: New York, New York, on April 28, 1960. Education:
  • A.B., summa cum laude, in 1981 from Princeton University
  • Worcester College, Oxford University, as Princeton’s Daniel M. Sachs Graduating Fellow
  • M. Phil. in 1983
  • J.D. from Harvard Law School, 1986 graduating magna cum laude
  • Supervising Editor of the Harvard Law Review.
Former Employment:
  • Law clerk to Judge Abner Mikva of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit from 1986-1987
  • Law clerk to Justice Thurgood Marshall of the Supreme Court of the United States during the 1987 Term
  • Associate in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Williams & Connolly, LLP, from 1989-1991
  • Assistant professor at the University of Chicago Law School in 1991
  • Tenured Professor of Law, University of Chicago Law Schoolin 1995.
  • Associate counsel to President Clinton From 1995-1999
  • Deputy assistant to the President for Domestic Policy
  • Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council
  • Harvard Law School as a visiting professor in 1999
  • Professor of Law, Harvard Law School in 2001
  • Charles Hamilton Houston Professor of Law
  • 11th Dean of Harvard Law School in 2003
  • Confirmed as 45th Solicitor General of the United States on March 19, 2009
Justice Elena KaganC-SPAN conducted a 49 minute interview with Justice Kagan soon after she began serving on the Supreme Court, in which she reveals her thoughts about coming to the Court.  She explains the role of the Court is principally to be the guardian of the law, to look at the Constitution and statutes passed by Congress, to interpret the law and to ensure that it is enforced and applied. Justice Kagan characterizes today's Court as what is termed a "hot bench," with several members of the Court being active questioners during oral argument.  As a consequence, it is more difficult today for lawyers to "spin out an argument."  She explains that oral argument "is for us to say well yeah, we've read your brief, we know what you think of the case, but here are the questions that that inspired in us.  Here are the concerns we have, the uncertainties that you left open."  She explains that the Justices are sometimes struggling with some new issue or a different aspect that they haven't confronted before, and what they are saying with their questions is, "Help me to try to figure this out." Justice Kagan also offers advice to lawyers who present oral argument before the court, that they are held to a high standard and "ought to know their stuff and the ought to be prepared to answer our questions."  In sum, "Be at the top of your game."

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