These Are the Oldest Supreme Court Justices to Ever Serve
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg recently revealed her plans to stay on the Supreme Court for at least five more years. “I’m now 85,” she told Nina Totenberg at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, “My senior colleague, Justice John Paul Stevens, he stepped down when he was 90, so I think I have about at least five more years.” Ginsberg has already hired law clerks for at least two more terms.
If Ginsberg actually retires at age 90 she’ll become one of the oldest Supreme Court Justices to ever serve. Since a Supreme Court Justices’ term is reliant on “good behavior,” and justices are serving longer than ever before, the President of the United State’s pick can, and likely will, last far longer than their time in office and affect the law for decades to come.
These are the longest-serving justices in U.S. History and the impact they’ve made on the court, the United States, and the world.
Oliver Wendell Holmes
- Took office in 1902 at age 60
- Retired in 1932 at age 90
Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was the oldest person to ever sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. He also held the role of Acting Chief Justice for a month in 1930. Holmes was known for various aspects of his tenure including his concise opinions, the embodiment of common law, and once close relationship with President Theodore Roosevelt.
Law and history students best know Holmes for his “clear and present danger” opinion in the unanimous 1919 court case of Schenck v. United States, which relayed that any type of speech which attempted to incite danger may not be protected under the First Amendment.
Holmes stepped down from his post in 1932 after age-related pressure from his fellow justices. He died of pneumonia in Washington, D.C. in 1935 — two days before his 94th birthday. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
John Paul Stevens
- Took office in 1975 at age 55
- Retired in 2010 at age 90
Justice John Paul Stevens was the second-oldest serving justice in the history of the Supreme Court at his retirement as well as the last justice of the “Greatest Generation,” or World War II generation of justices. Stevens served in the U.S. Navy throughout World War II before co-founding a Chicago law firm and eventually receiving appointment to the Supreme Court by President Gerald Ford.
Stevens was known for penning his own opinions in layman’s terms and for his majority decisions on cases like Clinton v. City of New York (1998) and Atkins v. Virginia (2002), as well as his dissenting opinions on Texas v. Johnson (1989) and Bush v. Gore (2000).
Stevens retired in 2010 but remains an active law commentator as well as New York Times opinion contributor. He recently wrote of his opinion that the court should appeal the Second Amendment.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg
- Took office in 1993 at age 60
- Plans to serve until age 90 (2023)
Before Ginsberg was a pop culture icon (watch Kate McKinnon’s portrayal of the justice on Saturday Night Live for a laugh) she was a Harvard Law graduate and the second woman confirmed to the Supreme Court. “The Notorious RBG,” as she’s been nicknamed by internet fans, has dedicated her career to fighting for marginalized groups through her work on the bench as well as women by co-founding the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project.
She championed humans rights with decisions like The United States v. Virginia (1996), Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), and Sessions v. Dimaya (2018). The new documentary about her life, called RBG, celebrates her 24 years on the court and offers insight into her “unexpected fame.”
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