Since childhood, we’re taught that United States government has three branches. But though we know the name of the President (Executive Branch) and perhaps many members of Congress (Legislative Branch), how many of us know much about the nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court (Judicial Branch)?
After all, they’re not elected by voters, unlike members of the other two branches, so they aren’t seen making speeches or kissing babies on the campaign trail. But the “Supremes,” as many call them, are vitally important and serve until death (unless they choose to resign or retire — or they’re impeached, which never has happened).
So let’s take time to meet the Supreme Court’s members.
That membership currently stands at eight, since the Feb. 13, 2016 death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. To replace the conservative Justice, President Obama has nominated Merrick Garland, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. But like all justices, his nomination must be confirmed by the Senate, which hasn’t done so.
Here are the eight justices on today’s Supreme Court of the United States, also known by the acronym of SCOTUS:
John Roberts Jr., Chief Justice. Appointed by President George W. Bush and serving since Sept. 29, 2005, Roberts, 61, is a native of Buffalo, NY. He grew up in Indiana and attended private school, then Harvard College and Harvard Law School. Known for a conservative philosophy, he worked in the Attorney General’s office during the administration of President Ronald Reagan and later in the Department of Justice during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. Later, in private practice, he argued 39 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Anthony Kennedy, Senior Associate Justice. Appointed by President Ronald Reagan and serving since Feb. 18, 1988, Kennedy, 79, is a native of Sacramento, CA. Following the 2006 retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Kennedy became the “swing vote,” or deciding vote, when the nine-member court was split on a decision. Though his ideology is elusive and he tends to vote on a case-by-case basis, he is known for libertarian principles and supports protections for sexual orientation.
Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice. Appointed by President George H.W. Bush and serving since Oct. 23, 1991, Thomas, 68, is a native of Pin Point, GA. He is the second African American to serve on the nation’s highest court. President Reagan earlier named him Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 1982. After his Supreme Court nomination, his confirmation hearings were bitterly contested based on allegations of sexual harassment of a female attorney. Since his confirmation, he’s been known as the Supreme Court’s most conservative Justice.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice. Appointed by President Bill Clinton and serving since Aug. 10, 1993, Ginsburg, 83, is a native of Brooklyn, NY. The daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants, she became the second female Justice when joining the court and now is among three women Justices on the high court. Prior to this, she worked as a lawyer supporting women’s equality. On the Supreme Court she is known for her liberal views, writing dissenting opinions when the Court swings conservatively. She supports sexual equality and women’s abortion rights.
Stephen Breyer, Associate Justice. Appointed by President Clinton and serving since Aug. 3, 1994, Breyer, 77, is a native of San Francisco, CA. From 1967 until he joined the high court, he was a lecturer, associate professor and professor at Harvard Law School, and he also served on a U.S. Court of Appeals. Known as a liberal Justice, he supports women’s abortion rights but is less likely to vote to overturn congressional legislation.
Samuel Alito, Associate Justice. Appointed by President George W. Bush and serving since Jan. 31, 2006, Alito, 66, is a native of Trenton, NJ. The Yale Law School graduate served on a U.S. Court of Appeals before joining the high court, where he is known for conservative views. Yet he does not always vote with other conservative Justices, especially on free speech cases.
Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice. Appointed by President Barack Obama and serving since Aug. 8, 2009, Sotomayor, 62, is a native of The Bronx, NY. She is the high court’s first Justice of Hispanic heritage, having been born to Puerto Rican immigrants. A Yale Law School graduate, she served on a U.S. District Court and U.S. Court of Appeals, and her nomination to the high court was soundly confirmed by the Senate. Known as a liberal-leaning Justice, she supports gender, ethnic and racial equality as well as the rights of defendants.
Elena Kagan, Associate Justice. Appointed by President Obama and serving since Aug. 7, 2010, Kagan, 56, is a native of New York, NY. A Harvard Law School graduate, she became its first female dean. She is considered a liberal Justice, though she often “crosses the aisle,” and she voted with Roberts to allow states to opt out of Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid, resulting in millions of persons being uninsured. She also went hunting with the late Scalia.