The Supreme Court
Readings on Backgrounds and Judicial Philosophies of the Nine Current Justices
1. Biographies of the Nine Current Justices
(from The Oyez Project at Northwestern University available at www.oyez.org)
John Roberts, Jr.
On September 29, 2005, John G. Roberts, Jr. was confirmed by the United States Senate as the seventeenth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Hours later he was sworn into office by Justice John Paul Stevens (the longest-serving member of the Court). His swearing-in marked the first addition to the Court in more than 11 years - the longest stretch without a new member since 1823. And at 50 years old, Roberts became the youngest Chief Justice since John Marshall took the bench in 1801 at the age of 45. This combination of factors - the age of the other Justices and Roberts' relative youth - suggests the potential for substantial influence on the Court for many years to come.
Roberts grew up in Long Beach, Indiana, where his father worked as an executive for Bethlehem Steel. In high school, he was captain of the varsity football team and also wrestled, sang in the choir, co-edited the student newspaper, took part in drama productions, and served on the student council Executive Committee. These activities, combined with a strong academic record, earned him a spot at Harvard University, where he majored in history and distinguished himself academically, graduating a year early with highest honors. During the summers he worked at a steel mill back in Indiana to help pay his tuition.
After graduation, Roberts moved on to Harvard Law School, where he worked as managing editor of the Harvard Law Review. Again he distinguished himself academically, graduating with high honors and catching the eye of Judge Henry Friendly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Friendly, one of the most widely respected appellate court judges in the country, hired Roberts as his law clerk. At the end of a year, Roberts moved on to another clerkship, this one to then-Justice William H. Rehnquist of the U.S. Supreme Court (the man whom he eventually replaced as Chief Justice). When he finished his Supreme Court clerkship in 1981, he was hired by the Reagan administration, first as a special assistant to the U.S. Attorney General and then as Associate Counsel to the President.
After a two-year hiatus from government service between 1986-1988, Roberts returned to a Republican administration to take the post of Deputy Solicitor General. In this capacity he argued dozens of cases before the Supreme Court on behalf of the federal government, winning well over half of them. When Democrat Bill Clinton won the 1992 Presidential election, Roberts returned to private practice. He became a partner at Hogan and Hartson, a prestigious Washington, D.C. firm, where he ran the appellate division and continued to argue cases before the Supreme Court.
Roberts worked for Hogan and Hartson for the next decade, earning a yearly salary of more than $1 million. Then, in 2001, President George W. Bush nominated him to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, widely considered the most important intermediate appellate court in the country. Roberts' initial nomination was never voted on by the Democrat-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee and was therefore never addressed by the full Senate. In 2003, President Bush renominated Roberts in a Republican-controlled Senate; he was confirmed by a voice vote with little opposition.
During his time on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Roberts wrote 49 opinions. Only two of his decisions were not unanimous, and he only dissented from other judges' opinions three times. According to University of Chicago Law Professor Cass Sunstein, his circuit court opinions suggest that he is a "judicial minimalist," emphasizing respect for precedent rather than a broader, more controversial approach like originalism.
Little more can be discerned about Roberts' judicial outlook from his circuit court decisions or from his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which some Senators and pundits complained was overly evasive. What can be gathered about his likely impact on the Court, however, is the administrative effect he is likely to have. Both during his testimony and in comments made before his nomination, Roberts suggested that he would like to see the Court reverse the trend of decreasing its docket size. While Roberts will have no more actual say in deciding to hear cases than any of the other justices - four justices have to agree to hear a case before it is placed on the Court's docket - he will nevertheless be able to exert strong influence on other justices from his position as Chief Justice. While this change would not be particularly glamorous or get much media attention, it could lead to a significant strengthening of the Supreme Court's role in interpreting and applying some of the more mundane aspects of American law. In the end, it may help to reshape the Court in Chief Justice Roberts' image: deliberate and well-reasoned, with less emphasis on hot-button issues than the general public has come to expect.
John Paul Stevens
John Paul Stevens, appointed to the Supreme Court in 1975, served as lowly freshman on the bench longer than any other justice did in this century. As the newest member of the Court, Stevens had the duty of keeping minutes and answering the door in the justices' closed conference. Stevens had to wait six years, until the appointment of Sandra Day O'Connor, before he relinquished his freshman spot. Today, after seven new freshmen, Stevens is the most senior justice, second only to Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. Stevens now speaks first in conference after Rehnquist and Stevens can assign opinions in the event that he is in the majority and Rehnquist is in minority. Still, Stevens' influence remains uncertain. Many observers point to his quirky and unconventional jurisprudence as a constraint on his ability to lead the Court. They argue that Stevens' individualistic personality keeps him permanently outside the mainstream of the Court and that he lacks the characteristics of a coalition-builder. Still, it would be difficult to discount Stevens completely in light of recent and moderate appointments.
John Paul Stevens was born on April 20, 1920, in Chicago, Illinois, as the youngest of Ernest and Elizabeth Stevens' four sons. Stevens grew up in a wealthy family. His father made a fortune in the insurance and hotel business and owned the Stevens Hotel, which has since become the Chicago Hilton. The Stevens lived near the University of Chicago campus and sent their sons to the university's laboratory school for preparatory education. Stevens attended college at the University of Chicago, following his father's footsteps, and joined his father's fraternity. He participated in a wide variety of campus activities and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1941. A year after his graduation, Stevens married Elizabeth Sheeren, with whom he had a son and three daughters.
Stevens enlisted in the navy during World War II. In his position as part of a Navy code- breaking team, Stevens earned the Bronze Star. Following the war, he again followed his father's path and entered Northwestern University Law School to study law. Stevens distinguished himself at Northwestern by becoming editor-in-chief of the school's law review and graduating with the highest grades in the law school's history. After graduating, he served a term as law clerk to Supreme Court Justice William Rutledge.
Stevens joined a prominent law firm in Chicago specializing in antitrust law and creating a reputation as a talented antitrust lawyer. He left the firm to start his own practice after three years and also began teaching law at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago law schools. His abilities in antitrust laws earned him positions with various special counsels to the House of Representatives and the U.S. Attorney General's office.
Stevens became known as a fair-minded and able counsel. Richard Nixon appointed him to the Unites States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in 1970. On the appeals court, Stevens continued to establish his reputation as a notable legal thinker. When Justice William Douglas stepped down from the Court in 1975. Attorney General Edward Levi proposed Stevens' appointment to the High Court. President Gerald Ford acted on Levi's advice and the Senate confirmed Stevens' appointment without controversy.
As a justice, Stevens has avoided simple conservative or liberal labels. As the Court moved toward the right during the Reagan and Bush presidencies, however, Stevens appeared more and more liberal relative to the make up of the Court. Although Stevens is the least predictable justice sitting today, his approach to judicial decision-making can be summarized in a general sense. Stevens will typically examine the facts of each case carefully and on their own merits. He also seeks to defer to the judgments of others who he feels are better suited to decide. He has demonstrated considerable judicial restraint and deference to the Congress.
Stevens divorced his first wife in 1979 and married Maryann Simon a year later. He remains something of a wildcard in the political balance of the Court.
Antonin Scalia, arguably the Court's most colorful jurist today, defies simple characterization. Indeed, the often controversial and combative justice draws out a wide range of sentiments from his peers and the public. Certainly, no one denies his immense legal brilliance and intellectual abilities. A Supreme Court observer once noted that if the mind were muscle and Court sessions were televised, Scalia would be the Arnold Schwartzenegger of American jurisprudence. Scalia also fills the role of the strong man. His confrontational style has startled many attorneys who have appeared before him. One litigator even described his action as those of a big cat batting around a ball of yarn. Scalia adds a dynamic personality to the Court. An author of recent study on the Court's conservative shift quipped that on a bench lined with solemn gray figures who often sat as silently as pigeons on a railing, Scalia stood out like a talking parrot. Scalia's own statements hint at his penetrating manner. When a reporter once commented favorably about Scalia's tuxedo, the ever-loquacious justice responded: "Ah yes, esteemed jurist by day, man about town by night." However, Scalia expresses nothing but humility about his job as a justice. At a conference before a crowd of law students, he admitted that he felt no sense of power whatsoever from his position. Instead, he agonized that his duty commonly forced him to end up doing things that: "I don't want to do."
Although many have noted his charms, Scalia's outspoken advocacy has alienated and at times offended some of his colleagues. Once, after a long tirade concluding that affirmative action constituted the most evil fruit of a fundamentally bad seed, a slightly offended Sandra Day O'Connor expressed her displeasure with the comment: "But, Nino, if it weren't for affirmative action, I wouldn't be here." Scalia's habit of using rhetorical extremes--for example, labeling a colleague's refusal to agree with him as "perverse" and "irrational"--has also hurt his relations with fellow justices. These anecdotes serve to form a portrait of this remarkable justice. As Scalia's role changes from a spearhead to an anchor in the moderating Court, the ever-unpredictable justice continues to amuse, astonish, satisfy, and frighten many Court watchers.
Antonin Scalia was born on March 11, 1936, in Trenton, New Jersey, as the only child of Eugene and Catherine Scalia. A second generation American, Scalia grew up with a strong Italian heritage explained by his father's foreign birth and his mother's immigrant upbringing. His father worked as a professor of Romance languages and his mother taught school. At age five, Scalia's father accepted a job at Brooklyn College so he and his family moved to Queens, New York.
Called "Nino" by friends and family, Scalia first attended public school in Queens. He later enrolled in St. Francis Xavier, a military prep school in Manhattan, where his intellect and work resulted in a first place graduation. Scalia's academic success continued at Georgetown University where he completed his undergraduate studies and received an A.B. summa cum laude in history. Scalia also graduated from Georgetown as class valedictorian. Scalia went on to Harvard Law School. He served as editor of the Harvard Law Review and graduated magna cum laude. After graduation, Scalia traveled in Europe for a year as part of his Sheldon Fellowship from Harvard. He met and became engaged to Maureen McCarthy, a student at nearby Radcliffe College, during his law school years. They married in 1960 and have nine children. They share a strong mutual faith in Catholicism.
After a brief stint working with commercial law, Scalia decided to teach law at the University of Virginia. After four years at Virginia, Scalia left teaching to pursue a career in government service. He started first as a general counsel for the Office of Telecommunication Policy under the Nixon administration. He successfully negotiated a major agreement between industry leaders to organize the growth of cable television. Between 1972 and 1974, Scalia chaired the Administrative Conference of the United States which studied ways to improve the efficiency of governmental processes. Richard Nixon nominated Scalia to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel just before the Watergate scandal forced Nixon to resign. President Ford assigned Scalia the task of determining legal ownership of the famous Nixon tapes and documents. Scalia decided in favor of Nixon, a reflection of his deep respect for the executive branch, though the Supreme Court soon ruled unanimously against this conclusion.
When President Jimmy Carter entered the White House in 1977, Scalia left government service to work as a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank in Washington D.C. Scalia also taught law briefly at the Georgetown University Law Center before moving to Chicago to teach at the University of Chicago Law School. His family had grown so considerably by then that Scalia had to buy a former fraternity house to accommodate them. He stayed in Chicago between 1977 and 1982, leaving once only briefly to teach at Stanford. Although he made good impressions among his academic peers, he did not dazzle anyone in his scholarly efforts. Some colleagues observed that Scalia's heart seemed set on active politics rather than academic law.
Scalia served a brief period between 1981 and 1982 as the chairman of the American Bar Association's section on administrative law and the Conference of Section Chairs. He soon received another chance to return to public service. Reagan appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Washington D.C. in 1982 where Scalia developed his reputation for following judicial restraint and limited interpretation. His colleagues viewed him favorably and remembered him mostly for his constant willingness to engage in dialogue over matters of law.
In 1986, President Reagan promoted William H. Rehnquist to the position of chief justice in the wake of the retirement of Warren Burger. To fill the vacancy created by Rehnquist's promotion, Reagan nominated Scalia to the Supreme Court. The political focus on Rehnquist's nomination drew all the attention away from Scalia. Thus, even though Scalia had a much more conservative record than Rehnquist, ironically Scalia's nomination passed unanimously and virtually uncriticized. Scalia took the oaths of office, becoming the youngest justice on the Court. His staunch conservatism and obvious intellect excited many conservative advocates who saw much promise in his confirmation.
Scalia's pursuit of strict interpretation, judicial restraint, and bright-line distinctions in the law has led him to surprising votes in his years on the bench. He has puzzled or pleased many conservatives and liberals by voting consistently in favor of free speech. Scalia provided the critical fifth vote, much to the dismay of conservative activists, in striking down a Texas flag-burning prohibition. He also ruled that a St. Paul, Minnesota, prohibition against hate crimes violated freedom of speech. On the issue of reproductive rights, Scalia has labored mightily to strike down Roe v. Wade (1973). He has consistently rejected any notion of a right to abortion under the Constitution, arguing always that such matters constituted political decisions best decided by the popular the popular branches of government.
Scalia's future is secure yet uncertain. Many believe that the moderation of the Court in recent years through the nominations of President Clinton will increasingly paint Scalia into an extreme intellectual corner. His confrontational and argumentative style may also detach him further from the mainstream of the Court. However, regardless of his future role and position on the ever-changing Court, Scalia's legal genius and rhetorical powers will likely ensure that his voice and vision, if not always supported, will continue to be heard.
Many pundits assumed that Ronald Reagan's third choice to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Lewis Powell would not constitute his favorite nominee for the position. Ironically, however, Anthony Kennedy shared a deeper background and association with Reagan than either of Reagan's two previous candidates. Reagan chose Kennedy for the spot only after the conservatism of Robert Bork and the embarrassing admission of Douglas Ginsburg's occasional marijuana use unhinged their respective confirmations. Still, Reagan did not resort to Kennedy out of desperation, but instead turned to him as an old associate worthy of reward. In an age when ideology and influence dominated politics, Kennedy arrived at his prominent position through simple hard work and loyalty. His consistency and competence earned him a well-deserved reputation for reliability among his peers. It also served to advance his career as an attorney and judge. Described as unassuming and friendly, Kennedy has won the respect and admiration of his colleagues over the years. Kennedy often used his personality to win over allies and form unlikely coalitions.
Anthony McLeod Kennedy was born on July 23, 1936 in Sacramento California. The second of his parent's three children, Kennedy grew up in the quiet Sacramento community that reflected the rural Central California region. Kennedy's father, Anthony J. Kennedy, worked as a lawyer and lobbyist for various businesses. He had a well-established law practice and a reputation for influence in the California legislature. His mother, Galdys McLeod, participated in many Sacramento civic activities. Kennedy attended a local Sacramento high school and Stanford University. He spent a year of his undergraduate studies at the London School of Economics and earned his A.B. and a Phi Beta Kappa key in 1958. After Stanford, Kennedy enrolled in Harvard Law School where he graduated cum laude. Kennedy returned to California after law school and worked as an associate for a law firm in San Francisco. When his father dies unexpectedly two years later in 1963, Kennedy returned to Sacramento to take over his father's practice. That same year, Kennedy wed Mary Davis, who he had known for many years. Together, they would have three children.
Kennedy spent many years working on the practice that his father had left him. Although he lacked experience as a lawyer, many of his father's important clients stayed with him out of respect for his father. Kennedy's clients soon discovered their new lawyer to have just as much, if not more, legal skills than his father. Kennedy had a talent for socializing and soon made many friends among the influential Californian politicians. He often entertained clients and guests at lavish parties and exclusive restaurants. Kennedy also donated large sums of money on behalf of himself and his clients to various political officials in the state. Through his work as a lobbyist, Kennedy befriended Ed Meese who represented the California District Attorney Association at that time. The two, sharing similarities in age and background, became close friends. Meese left to work for then-Governor Reagan in 1966 and Kennedy continued his work as an attorney and lobbyist. The two men did not lose touch with each other, however, and Kennedy continued to help Meese and Reagan in small capacities. Kennedy also taught constitutional law for a brief period during this time at the McGeorge School of Law of the University of the Pacific. In 1973, Meese recruited Kennedy to help Reagan draft a plan to cut taxes and spending. Kennedy helped draft Proposition One, a ballot initiative to limit the state's spending. He campaigned throughout the state to push the passage of the proposal and his efforts won him Reagan's favor. Despite the initiative's failure, Reagan rewarded Kennedy for his work by recommending him to President Gerald Ford for a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Kennedy joined the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1975 as the youngest federal judge of his day. Carter expanded and flooded the Ninth Circuit Court with liberal judges during his presidency and Kennedy soon became the head of the court's conservative minority. In the turbulent and often divided Ninth Circuit Court of that time, Kennedy often held majorities with few dissents. His narrow case-by-case approach and his refusal to resort to sweeping conclusions and rhetoric won him the support of many colleagues. Even his opponents admired Kennedy's well-crafted and thoughtful opinions. When Justice Lewis Powell retired in 1987, Kennedy appeared on a short list of possibilities for Reagan's nomination. Reagan nominated Robert Bork first, but the conservative Bork met fierce opposition in the Senate and ultimately failed to win confirmation. Reagan then turned to Douglas Ginsburg, a judge from the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia Circuit. Ginsburg, however, withdrew himself from consideration after only nine days when allegations leaked concerning his past marijuana use. Reagan, on the advice of Meese, finally turned to Kennedy to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. Kennedy's nomination, unlike Reagan's two previous picks, encountered little resistance. Most observers viewed him favorably and even liberals thought of him as pragmatic and fair-minded. The Senate unanimously confirmed Kennedy on February 3, 1988 and he took the oaths of office a few days later.
Kennedy's experience as a federal judge allowed him to make a quick and easy transition to the Supreme Court. Since then, Kennedy has voted consistently with his past record on many issues. He remains conservative on crime issues and still refuses to broaden the scope of his opinions. He has been effective in holding unlikely coalitions on the Court. Rehnquist often relies on Kennedy's ability to build bridges between the Court's conservatives and liberals. In this sense, Kennedy is an important pivot on which close decisions turn. Kennedy has recently become an important part of the Court's growing centrist bloc.
David H. Souter
A man of unusual and peculiar sensibilities, David H. Souter came to the Supreme Court as a complete enigma. Souter, who received his nomination to the Court from President George Bush only months after his promotion to a federal appeals court, lacked a public reputation. As a result, the press labeled him the "stealth justice," an unknown judge with uncertain values. Conservatives praised Souter as a restrained jurist and predicted that he would bolster the right-wing bloc of Antonin Scalia and William H. Rehnquist. The Bush White House assured the Republican far right that Souter would be a "home run." Liberals, on the other hand, hoped secretly that the Bush nominee would fail in expectations and emerge as a surprise to his sponsors. To this day, Souter has avoided validating either camp. The Free Congress Foundation, an organization dedicated to coordinating support for conservative nominees, has called their optimistic predictions "miserably inaccurate." The Women's Legal Defense Fund, a liberal group for the advancement of women's rights, staged protests at various times against Souter and has expressed dismay at his votes. The unhappiness of both political extremes speaks volumes of the quirky justice. To this day, Souter has demonstrated a moderate jurisprudence though he has not appeared afraid to wander deep into either camp along the political spectrum. Court watchers continue to be amused by Souter's eccentric habits and behaviors.
David Hackett Souter was born in Melrose, Massachusetts, on September 17, 1939. Although Souter grew up with his parents, Joseph and Helen, in Massachusetts, he spent many of his summers at his maternal grandparent's farm in Weare, New Hampshire. Souter's grandparents passed away when he was eleven and his family decided to move to the farm. Since then, Souter has claimed Weare as his home. Souter's father worked as a banker in the nearby state capital of Concord. He passed away in 1976, survived by Souter and his mother who still resides in a retirement community close to the Souter farm.
Souter attended a local public school where his teachers immediately recognized the great intelligence of their young student. His parents sent Souter to Concord High School where he excelled. His classmates voted him, upon graduation, the "most sophisticated" and "most likely to succeed." After high school, Souter attended Harvard University where he continued to enjoy academic success. He graduated magna cum laude in 1961 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. The recipient of a Rhodes scholarship to attend Oxford, Souter spent the next two years earning his bachelor's and master's degrees in jurisprudence from Magdalen College. Souter returned to the United States in 1963 to study law at Harvard.
After law school, Souter went back to his home and accepted a position with the Concord law firm of Orr & Reno. Souter based his decision on his previous experience there as a summer clerk and his desire to remain close to home. At Orr & Reno, Souter practiced a wide variety of law ranging from corporate law to general litigation. He also began participation in various civic activities that would eventually lead to trusteeships in both the Concord Hospital and the New Hampshire Historical Society. Souter's activism in civic activities encouraged him to seek a wider role in public service. His colleagues at his firm observed that he seemed discontent with private practice. Thus, Souter eagerly accepted a position offered by the attorney general of New Hampshire in 1968.
Souter began as an assistant attorney general in the criminal division, but his talents quickly propelled him to higher office. When Warren Rudman became attorney general of New Hampshire, in 1971, he picked Souter as his assistant. Souter earned Rudman's admiration and respect. When Rudman resigned from office a few years later, New Hampshire's Governor Meldrin Thompson appointed Souter to the top job. As attorney general for New Hampshire, Souter fought a gambling legalization movement in the state as well as protests against a nuclear power plant.
Souter became a judge after two years of service as the attorney general. Since New Hampshire's trial court did not reside in any permanent seat, Souter and his fellow judges traveled the state's ten counties. This experience exposed Souter to a wide variety of cases and situations. Most of the cases that came before him dealt with criminal matters and he soon gained a tough-on-crime reputation. Still, his fairness and intelligence won him praise even from defense attorneys.
Governor John Sununu promoted Souter to the New Hampshire Supreme Court in 1983. Souter quickly established himself as a knowledgeable jurist and an independent thinker. President Bush appointed Souter to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1990. Justice William J. Brennan retired five months later, however, and Bush decided to move Souter up again. Although Sununu and Rudman, , denied involvement in Souter's nomination, Souter's friendship with both no doubt helped his cause. The ever-unassuming Souter had to be reassured by Rudman that, in light of all the qualified candidates available, an interview with Bush was really necessary. Souter's nomination passed nearly unopposed through the Senate.
Souter's first year on the Court was undistinguished. He wrote few opinions and did not display many hints of his judicial predisposition. Since then, he has appeared more comfortable on the Court. He has settled into the moderate camp of the Court as evidenced by his unprecedented 24 similar votes with the centrist Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Together with O'Connor and Kennedy, Souter has formed a moderate bloc in the Court that prevents domination from the conservative wing.
Souter's engaging personality explains his quick friendship with fellow justices. As one of the few people unoffended by Scalia's verbal argumentation style, Souter has become a good friend with the conservative justice despite the fact that they often clash on controversial issues. Souter has maintained his simple, bachelor lifestyle. He brings his own lunch, consisting of apples and yogurt, to work everyday and lives in an undecorated apartment. He still returns home to Weare during the summer breaks where he climbs the local mountains and visits his mother.
Clarence Thomas has lived a life riddled with irony and contradictions. Although he has opposed racial preference and affirmative action programs, he nonetheless benefited from them. As a young student, Thomas entered the College of the Holy Cross, a Jesuit institution in Massachusetts, after the school began a black recruitment program. Thomas was the beneficiary of a similar minority program a few years later at Yale Law School. As a young lawyer, Thomas aimed at a career outside the ambit of civil rights. However, for his effort, he earned appointment as the heard of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And racial preference ultimately explained Thomas's appointment to the Supreme Court. Although President George Bush stated that he chose Thomas for his legal qualifications, it would take conscious effort to ignore the political pressures on Bush to name a black candidate after the retirement of Thurgood Marshall, the Court's first and only black justice. Thomas' nomination itself threw traditional political loyalties into disarray. Liberals, including the NAACP and Congressional Black Caucus, did not know what to do. Their desire to see a black justice on the Supreme Court competed with their disapproval of Thomas' conservative views. In the end, fearing that a black voice will legitimize the arguments of many white conservatives, the liberals sought to block Thomas' nomination. Conservatives, on the other hand, embraced Thomas. His unlikely supporters included Sen. Strom Thurmond, who had built his earlier political career on a segregationist platform. Finally, Thomas's confirmation hearings cemented the impression that his nomination served to fill an unspoken racial quota on the Supreme Court. Thus, Clarence Thomas joined the Supreme Court under the very shadow of affirmative action that he sought to avoid.
Clarence Thomas was born on June 23, 1948, in Pin Point, Georgia. The second child and first son of M.C. Thomas and Leola Williams' three children, Thomas spent most of his childhood without his father who abandoned the family early in Thomas' life. Thomas grew up in poverty. The Pin Point community he lived in lacked a sewage system and paved roads. Its inhabitants dwelled in destitution and earned but a few cents each day performing manual labor. Thomas's mother tried hard to take care of Thomas and his brother and sister. She worked as a maid and collected from church charities to support her family. At age seven, Thomas' mother decided to remarry after the family's wooden house burned to the ground. Thomas's mother sent him and his brother to live with their grandfather, Myers Anderson, in Savannah. Life with his grandfather introduced Thomas to much better days which included regular meals and indoor plumbing. Thomas's grandfather also imparted upon his grandsons the importance of a good education. Thomas and his brother worked for their grandfather after school making fuel deliveries. In his spare time, Thomas often went to the local Carnegie library since the Savannah Public Library had not yet allowed blacks to enter. At his grandfather's urgings to become a priest, Thomas left his black high school after two years to attend St. John Vianney Minor Seminary, an all-white boarding school located just outside of Savannah dedicated to training priests. Thomas suffered minor episodes of racism at his new school. His fellow schoolmates excluded him from social activities and made fun of his color. Still, Thomas persevered and graduated with a good academic record.
Thomas attended the Immaculate Conception Seminary in Missouri as his next step towards attaining priesthood. He left soon after, though, due to the severe racism he encountered in the school. After taking some time off, Thomas enrolled at Holy Cross. He participated actively in the formation of the Black Student Union. Thomas also supported the Black Panthers and once urged a student walkout to protest investments in South Africa. In 1971, Thomas graduated ninth in his class with an English honors degree. The following day, he married Kathy Ambush, a student at a nearby Catholic woman's college.
Yale University Law School accepted Thomas through its affirmative action program. While at Yale, Thomas' wife gave birth to his only child, a son named Jamal. Thomas specialized in tax and anti-trust law while at Yale. Upon his graduation, many firms tried to recruit Thomas by hinting at opportunities to do pro bono work. This tactic, however, served only to offend Thomas and he turned every offer down. Thomas decided to return to Missouri to work in the office of then State Attorney General John Danforth. The job allowed him to work in the tax division and did not force his involvement in any civil rights cases. When Danforth won an election to the U.S. Senate three years later in 1977, Thomas left the attorney general's office and became a corporate lawyer in the pesticide and agriculture division of the Monsanto Company.
Thomas left Monsanto after two years and returned to Danforth to work as his legislative aide. When Thomas attended a conference of black conservatives in 1980, a columnist for the Washington Post wrote an article about him that attracted the attention of the Reagan administration.
President Reagan offered Thomas a job as the assistant secretary for civil rights in the Department of Education. Thomas accepted the job and Reagan soon promoted him to head the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). As the director of EEOC, Thomas supervised the entire federal efforts to curb discrimination in the workplace. Thomas dramatically changed the practice of the EEOC under his leadership. He abandoned the use of timetables and numeric goals, which allowed companies more flexibility in their hiring of minorities. Thomas also ended the use of class action suits that relied on statistical evidence of discriminatory effects. These changes in EEOC practice angered many civil rights groups. During this time, Thomas experienced some personal difficulties. His grandfather died in 1983 and he divorced his wife in 1984. He met Virginia Lamp at a conference two years later and they soon married.
President Bush appointed Thomas to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. in 1990. When Thurgood Marshall retired in 1991, Bush decided to elevateThomas to the Supreme Court. Thomas' nomination met strong opposition from minority groups who opposed Thomas's conservative views on civil rights. Thomas weathered several days of questioning from the Democrat-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee. He was unwilling to express opinions about policies or approaches to constitutional interpretation. He maintained that he had never formulated a position on the controversial abortion decision, Roe v. Wade.
His questioners were unable to shake him. His nomination seemed assured when a last-minute witness, Professor Anita Hill, came forward with charges of sexual misconduct when she worked for Thomas ten years earlier. The nation seemed transfixed by the ensuing testimony of Hill, then Thomas, and a parade of corroborating witnesses who spoke to a national television audience, preempting afternoon soap operas and competing successfully for viewers against the World Series. After a marathon hearing to explore the Hill charges, the Committee failed to unearth convincing proof of Hill's allegations. The Committee reported the Thomas nomination to the full Senate without a recommendation. In the end, the Senate voted 52 to 48 to confirm Thomas's nomination to the High Court.
Since becoming a justice, Thomas has aligned closely with the far right of the Court. He votes most frequently on the same side as the conservative camp of Rehnquist and Scalia. When Thomas began his tenure on the Court, many observers perceived him as a junior version of Scalia. Since then, Thomas has emerged from Scalia's shadow offering hints at his own conservative thinking.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
President Bill Clinton chose Ruth Bader Ginsburg as his first appointment to the United States Supreme Court. Ginsburg was born Joan Ruth Bader on March 15, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York. She was the second daughter born to Nathan and Celia Bader. Sadly, Ginsburg's older sister died before she started school, leaving Ruth as an only child. The Brooklyn neighborhood in which the Baders lived consisted mostly of poor, working class Jewish, Italian, and Irish immigrants. Celia Bader taught her daughter Ruth, whom she called 'Kiki,' the value of independence and a good education. Ginsburg heeded her mother's advice and worked diligently in school. Her classmates remembered her in varying ways. Some recalled her beauty and popularity, which led to her selection to the twirling squad. Others remembered her as overly competitive, even to the point of annoyance. A secret hidden to all her classmates at the time was the fact that Celia Bader suffered from cancer during Ruth's high school years. Celia Bader passed away a day before her daughter's graduation ceremony. Ruth did not attend a "Forum of Honor" to which she was invited for graduating sixth in her class. Celia Bader left Ruth a relatively large sum of eight thousand dollars for her college tuition. Ginsburg, however, earned enough scholarships by that time to support herself. She gave most of the money to her father.
Ginsburg attended Cornell University after graduating from high school. There, she began dating Martin Ginsburg, who would become her husband. Their undergraduate years were uneventful. Martin enrolled at Harvard Law School upon his graduation while Ruth completed her senior year at Cornell. Halfway through the year, Martin received his draft notice. Ruth graduated first in her class from Cornell and the young couple married before moving to Fort Sill, in Lawton, Oklahoma, where Martin was stationed to serve in the Army. After Martin's discharge from the Army two years later, the couple returned to Harvard, where Ruth Ginsburg also enrolled in law school.
Ruth Ginsburg attended Harvard at a difficult time. In the era of harsh grillings by professors using the Socratic method, Ruth Ginsburg and her fellow women students found the school extremely hostile. At one point, Dean Erwin Griswold asked the women of the class what it felt like to occupy places that could have gone to deserving men. Still, Ginsburg overcame the derision and excelled academically. She received high grades and earned a position with the law review. Crisis struck when Martin developed testicular cancer and required extensive treatment with radiation and surgery. Ginsburg attended to her preschool daughter and her ill husband while maintaining her studies. She attended class for her husband and typed his papers as he dictated every word. After a difficult struggle, Martin recovered. He graduated from law school and accepted a position in a New York law firm. Ruth Ginsburg transferred from Harvard to Columbia Law School to continue her study. She made law review, becoming the first woman to achieve the honored position at two major schools. After a year at Columbia, Ginsburg graduated at the top of her class.
The years following her graduation from law school were spent in academic endeavors. Ginsburg worked for a few years as a research associate at Columbia Law School before joining the faculty at Rutgers University Law School in 1963. Ginsburg worked during this time to advance several feminist causes. While at Rutgers, she battled for maternity leave rights for schoolteachers in New Jersey. She also began an active participation in the American Civil Liberties Union. In 1972, Ginsburg became the first woman hired with tenure at Columbia Law School. She also became the first director of the ACLU's Women's Rights Project that same year.
Ginsburg's star continued to rise as she joined many important committees and boards in various law associations across the country. During this time, she also began appearing before the Supreme Court where she would eventually argue a total of six cases for women's rights. After a brief stint as a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences in Stanford, California, Ginsburg President Jimmy Carter nominated Ginsburg to serve as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals in the D.C. Circuit. She served as a federal appeals judge from 1981 until President Clinton nominated her to succeed retiring Justice Byron R. White. Clinton, impressed by Ginsburg's life story, praised her for her efforts in advancing women's rights.
While leaning towards the liberal side of the Court's political spectrum, Ginsburg has not hesitated to vote with her conservative colleagues. Ginsburg has shown a continuing willingness to promote women's rights from the High Court. Unlike other justices, Ginsburg relishes the opportunity to address the public in speeches, delivering her views eloquently and with a deep sense of commitment. There is little doubt that Ginsburg's position on women's rights, and civil liberties in general, will play an important role in many controversial issues to come.
Stephen G. Breyer
President Clinton's second nomination to the Supreme Court is a man of difficult descriptions. Contradictory in many ways, Stephen Gerald Breyer defied simple classification, as a man and as a judge. The first son of a middle-class San Francisco Jewish family, Breyer eventually married into a well-established family of the British aristocracy. Though he possessed enormous wealth, he nonetheless lived a relatively simple life, riding the bus to work and mowing his own lawn. His peculiarities did not end with his personal life, but extended to his bench practice as well. As an appeals court judge, Breyer upheld parental notification for teenage abortions and rejected federal guidelines that prevented health officials at public clinics from advising abortion. A strong proponent of cutting government regulation, Breyer often justified his position, not as beneficial for business, but as being in the interest of the people. This sentimentalism could be viewed cynically. But in Breyer's case, however, these sentiments are genuine and reflect a pragmatic view with many mismatched results.
Stephen Gerald Breyer was born on August 15, 1938 in San Francisco, California. Only one generation from poverty, Breyer's middle-class family lived frugally. Breyer's father, Irving Breyer, worked as a lawyer and legal counsel for the San Francisco Board of Education. His mother, Anne, spent most of her time as a volunteer for the San Francisco Democratic Party and for the League of Women Voters. Although Breyer's parents sent him and his brother to religious school, the family did not observe their Jewish faith strictly. Instead, his parents pushed Breyer towards academic success. Anne Breyer also encouraged young Stephen to be well-rounded and avoid becoming overly bookish. She insisted that Breyer play sports even though he demonstrated little athletic ability. At a camp one summer, Breyer won the nickname Blister King for his tender feet. Still, Stephen Breyer persevered and achieved modest success. At age 12, he attained Eagle Scout and became known as the "troop brain."
Breyer and his brother attended academically prestigious Lowell High School, a magnet academy of the San Francisco public school system. In high school, Breyer participated actively in the debate team and competed against other notables such as future California governor Jerry Brown. School came easily for Breyer and he completed high school with only one B. By the time of his graduation, he accumulated many debating, math, and science awards and his class elected him as the "most likely to succeed." Both Harvard and Stanford accepted Breyer, and though Breyer preferred the former, he bowed to his parent's wishes and chose the latter. His mother had hoped to steer Breyer away from a narrow academic focus. At Stanford, Breyer achieved his mother's wishes more than she would have liked perhaps, when he was arrested for underage drinking. After Stanford, Breyer won a Marshall Scholarship to attend Oxford. There he picked up an interest in economics, which influenced his perspective as a judge. Breyer studied law at Harvard where he distinguished himself as an editor of the law review.
Justice Arthur Goldberg selected Breyer as his clerk for the 1964-65 term of the Supreme Court. Breyer helped Goldberg draft an opinion in the landmark right-to-privacy case, Griswold v. Connecticut. Although Goldberg's opinion argued for a right to privacy rooted in the Ninth Amendment, little evidence tied this belief to Breyer. After Breyer completed his clerkship at the Supreme Court, he worked in the Justice Department's anti-trust division for several years. During this time, in 1967, Breyer met his future wife, Joanna Hare, the daughter of England's Lord John Blakenham. At the time, Hare worked as an assistant in the Washington office of London's Sunday Times. Breyer married Joanna in England in an Anglican ceremony, carefully edited to remove references to Christ. His marriage greatly increased his personal wealth and Breyer soon left the Justice Department and returned to Harvard to teach regulatory law. His wife became a psychologist at Boston's Dana Farber Clinic. The Breyers enjoyed a comfortable life among the Cambridge intellectual elite and raised two daughters, Chloe and Nell, and a son, Michael. Breyer worked for a few months as an aide to Archibald Cox in the Watergate prosecutions. In 1974, Breyer accepted Massachusetts Senator Kennedy's invitation to work as legal counsel to the Judiciary Committee. In his time there, Breyer established a reputation for competence and fairness among the senators which may partially explain his smooth confirmation to the High Court years later.
During his tenure as counsel for the Judiciary Committee, Breyer worked hard to end governmental regulation of the airline industry. Breyer's complicated economic solution and efforts resulted in airline deregulation. Breyer's position and dedication already won him enough Republican supporters so that he received a seat on the federal appeals court with Ronald Reagan as president. Years later, Breyer once again influenced policy when he joined the U.S. Sentencing Commission in 1985. Sentencing guidelines became one of this century's biggest and most controversial debates in criminal justice. Breyer's work served as the basis for praise and criticism years later during his nomination. His supporters pointed to his hard work and told stories of the intensely focused Breyer forgetting to change shirts. Another story claimed that Breyer, so concentrated on his work, failed to notice that his co-workers had planted goldfish in his water cooler. His detractors, on the other hand, emphasized Breyer's technocratic tendencies and his apparent lack of focus for the common people. Among his opponents, most accused him of siding too often with the big businesses over the people in his history as a judge. Others criticized his sentencing scheme, which they alleged to have racially disparate impacts.
Still, Breyer's nomination proceeded relatively unopposed. President Clinton considered Breyer originally in his first nomination, but found Breyer dry and unfriendly, so he opted for Ruth Bader Ginsburg instead. In the second time around, Clinton picked Breyer. Breyer's supporters convinced the president that he had misjudged Breyer and urged Clinton to give him another chance. Breyer's appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he once served, went off without a hitch. Only Senator Howard Metzenbaum pushed him on his pro-business stand, although Metzenbaum had gone on record for Breyer's nomination. Breyer's substantial investments posed potential conflict-of-interest problems, but the issue quickly defused. Breyer followed the path of his contemporary judges in refusing to answer questions relating to specific issues, arguing that he did not wish to bias future cases. Thus with powerful supporters in Senators Hatch and Kennedy and little opposition, Breyer became the 108th Supreme Court Justice in 1994.
Samuel Alito, Jr.
On January 31, 2006, after serving for more than 15 years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Samuel Anthony Alito Jr. joined the U.S. Supreme Court as its 110th member. Alito's confirmation process was a contentious one, and came only after President George W. Bush's first nominee, White House Counsel Harriet Myers, withdrew herself from consideration because of criticism that she was unqualified. The Senate confirmed Alito by a vote of 58 to 42, the closest confirmation vote in more than a decade, after a failed attempt by Senate Democrats to filibuster the nomination.
Unlike Myers, Alito was almost universally recognized as intellectually qualified. A graduate of Princeton University and Yale Law School (where he served as editor of the Yale Law Journal), he received a unanimous "well qualified" rating from the American Bar Association (the rating measures judicial temperament, not ideology). Moreover, Alito's nomination to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in 1990 was approved by unanimous consent in a Democratic Senate. Historically, the confirmation process for appeals court judges has centered around their intellectual qualifications rather than their judicial ideology, because they are bound by the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court and therefore have less flexibility in their decision-making.
The controversy over Alito centered instead on his judicial beliefs about such hot-button issues as abortion, Presidential powers, and electoral reapportionment. Based on his work in the Justice Department during the Reagan Administration and his rulings as an appellate judge, critics claimed that his views were "outside the mainstream." They pointed, for example, to Alito's dissent as a Circuit Court judge in the case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which dealt with Pennsylvania's restrictions about when a woman could receive an abortion and who needed to be notified of it. Alito voted to uphold a portion of the law that required that a husband be notified when his wife sought an abortion; when the case eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Court rejected Alito's reasoning.
Critics also pointed to a 1985 application for a promotion in the Justice Department, in which Alito stated that he had been motivated to go to law school by conservative writings criticizing the Warren Court's decisions in the areas of criminal procedure, the Establishment Clause, and reapportionment. Moreover, he wrote that he was proud to represent the administration's legal view that "racial and ethnic quotas should not be allowed and that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion." During his Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Alito explained that, while the statements were accurate at the time, they were written as part of an application for a political appointment in the conservative Reagan administration and did not necessarily reflect his views as a judge.
On a less contentious note, Alito also attributed much of his approach to the law to what he learned from his father while growing up. His father, a long-time employee of the New Jersey state legislature, was a first-generation Italian American. During his confirmation hearings, Alito stated that the stories his father told him about being discriminated against for his nationality and Catholic religion and about having to build a comfortable life from humble beginnings had made him more disposed to treat everyone who came before him with respect. These statements were made in response to criticism that, as a Circuit Court judge, Alito had consistently ruled against the poor and minority litigants who came before him.
His wife, Martha-Ann, whom he married in 1985, joined Alito at the confirmation hearings. He also has two children, Philip and Laura.