Hillary Clinton Too Old For Supreme Court

Hillary Clinton UN PhotoSpeculating on Supreme Court appointments is a great parlor game and throwing the “pick a politician” wildcard into the game is especially fun. Ezra Klein jumps in with both feet:

I’ve always been partial to the idea of seeing Hillary Clinton appointed to the Supreme Court. She’s got a law degree, of course. She’s practiced law, practiced politics and practiced statecraft. She’s been present in both the executive and the legislative branch. She’s done an enormous amount of retail politics, which I think is useful. She’s smart and hardworking and has proven herself adaptable to a wide range of institutions. The counterargument I got on Twitter is that she’s controversial, but I’m not sure I really believe that anymore. She’s well-known, and many Republicans in the Senate like her personally.

Hillary would be confirmed easily, I’d think.  The 1990s are over and the controversies surrounding her have long since died down.  She was, by all accounts, a hard worker and excellent colleague in the Senate and she sailed to confirmation as Secretary of State.

But, even assuming Obama decides to bypass the recent trend of picking law professors and appeals court justices — preferably those with little history of taking controversial positions — I don’t think Hillary is the gal.

She’s too old.

Now, by modern standards, 62 isn’t old anymore.  And she’s obviously quite active and seemingly healthy.   But presidents don’t get a lot of chances to appoint Supreme Court Justices — Obama has already gotten two more chances than Jimmy Carter got in his whole presidency and as many as Bill Clinton got in two whole terms — and they want those picks to remain in office years, preferably decades, after their own tenure ends.

Let’s look at the current roster of Justices and their ages when joining the Court:

  • Chief Justice John Roberts: 50
  • Sonia Sotomayor: 54
  • Samuel Alito: 56.
  • Stephen Breyer: 55 (a few days shy of 56)
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 60
  • Clarence Thomas: 43
  • Anthony Kennedy: 51
  • Antonin Scalia: 50
  • John Paul Stevens: 55

Stevens was appointed by Gerald Ford 35 years ago.  He served the entirety of the presidencies of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush plus the first half of Barack Obama’s first term.  That sort of longevity is the goal.

Does Hillary Clinton have another 35 good years in her?  Through age 97?  Well, let us hope.   But, were I a betting man, I’d prefer to put my money on a younger horse.

UPDATE:  I see that I  already wrote a post titled “Hillary Clinton for Supreme Court?” back in May 2008.  I’ve therefore renamed this one to more directly reflect my thesis.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. PD Shaw says:

    I think your assessment is slightly more true of Republican strategy than Democratic. Discounting Stevens, the average Republican Justice was 50 when appointed, the average Democratic Justice was 56.3.

    I think the difference lies in a more pointed Republican objective to overturn Roe, which is practically impossible without making age a key consideration.

  2. Herb says:

    Hillary’s age wouldn’t be my number 1 reservation. It would be her ego. In a trade that operates on ego, she’s got a bigger one than most. I’d prefer, you know, an actual judge to a political careerist.

  3. john personna says:

    I’ve heard that Barack will nominate himself, and express confidence that he can do both jobs well.

  4. kth says:

    They should change it so that Supreme Court appointments (and any judicial appointments) are not for life, but for a single, non-renewable term of 10-15 years. Hell, make it 20, just make it of fixed duration.

    It’s absurd for youth to be a positive criterion for a judge, but that’s the upshot of our current system–you want a spot on the court filled by your side’s guy for as long as possible. That’s a zero-sum game for the parties, and has negative consequences (worthy older candidates aren’t considered) for the system as a whole.

  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    You have the wrong Clinton: it’s Bill who should go on the court. I have excellent reasons I think you’ll find irrefutable:

    1) No one does a more convincing “attentive gaze.”
    2) The gray hair would go nicely with the black robe.
    3) The court reporter would have to invent a symbol for “bites lower lip.”
    4) He would win Scalia over with his ready supply of cigars.
    5) We’d see a lot more opportunity for female law clerks.
    6) He could drive Thomas crazy by claiming to be “3rd black justice.”
    7) Could re-open Bush v. Gore
    8) Glen Beck’s head would explode.
    9) Pizza night at the court: supremes for everyone!
    10) Any appeal involving evidence found on a dress automatically wins.

  6. Triumph says:

    Obama needs to nominate the most qualified person. That person is Harriet Miers.

    Bush recognized her as one of the best legal minds of our time when he tapped her for the court. Unfortunately, the dim-witted liberals harassed her to such an extent that she stepped down from being considered.

    Obama must right the wrong by nominating her. His yellow-bellied buddies in the Senate would likely let her through this time, since the only reason they didn’t like her before was that they suffered from Bush Derangement Syndrome.

  7. Herb says:

    They should change it so that Supreme Court appointments (and any judicial appointments) are not for life, but for a single, non-renewable term of 10-15 years.

    There’s a good reason why SC appointments are for life. It’s to keep the Mitt Romneys and John Kerrys from flip-flopping due to popular tastes. Supposedly it’s to induce independence. Doesn’t always work…but that’s the plan.

  8. RJFlorida says:

    “The 1990s are over ”


    You are completely delusional. Her appointment would enrage Republicans like nothing that has happened since and would make the Tea party movement look mild. It would guarantee a 100% Republican turnout and sweep the elections in November.

    Do it.