Supreme Court Demographics

The class photo has changed.

AP (“Supreme Court’s new ‘class photo’ includes number of firsts“):

The group photo of the Supreme Court’s nine members is a long-standing ritual. But it has never looked quite like the one taken on Friday.

The new image includes Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black female justice, who joined the court in June. With her addition, the court marks a number of firsts. It’s the first time white men don’t hold a majority on the court and the first time four women have served together. It’s also the first time the court has had two Black justices.

The shifting demographics of the 9-person body are an interesting reflection on our changing society. While it’s definitely not a court that, “looks like America,” to use the now-shopworn phrase, it’s much closer to it than it was when I first started paying attention 40-odd years ago.

Thurgood Marshall was the first Black Justice. He was appointed in my lifetime but not my memory; I was a few weeks shy of 2. But I vividly recall Ronald Reagan following through on his pledge to appoint the Court’s first woman, in the person of Sandra Day O’Connor. Indeed, she was the first appointee to register in my consciousness. Sonia Sotomayor became the first Hispanic Justice well after I started this blog. That the Court now has three persons of color and four women would have seemed far-fetched in 1980.

Of course, the fact that all 9 of the Justices graduated from elite private universities is incredibly unrepresentative of the country. Indeed, all but Amy Comey Barrett have Ivy League credentials But it makes sense given the way we sort the legal profession.

That only one of the Justices—the newest—is Protestant (seven are Roman Catholic* and one is Jewish) is also quite odd. I imagine it’s an artifact of the Republican fixation on abortion in judicial selection (six of the seven were appointed by Republican Presidents; the other, Sotomayor, was appointed by President Obama).


*There is some question about Neil Gorsuch. He was raised Catholic but reportedly attends Episcopal services.

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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. Kathy says:

    That photo should be called “How Few Remain”