Williamsburg, Va. (May 11, 2010) — On Monday, President Barack Obama nominated Solicitor General Elena Kagan to be the 112th Justice of the United States Supreme Court. The nominee’s lack of prior judicial experience has received considerable attention from the press and from pundits. But new research from the National Center for State Courts shows that 85 percent of state courts of last resort — 46 of 53* — include at least one member who came to the court without prior judicial experience. Only seven states — California, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Tennessee — have courts of last resort constituted entirely of judges with lower-court judicial experience.The late Chief Justice William Rehnquist was the last member of the U.S. Supreme Court to serve on the highest court in the land without prior judicial experience. Across the country, there are 19 sitting state Chief Justices who joined their high courts without prior judicial experience, including four who were installed as Chief Justice without serving as an Associate Justice prior. Those four are Minnesota Chief Justice Eric J. Magnuson, Montana Chief Justice Mike McGrath, Nebraska Chief Justice Michael G. Heavican, and New Jersey Chief Justice Stuart Rabner. Justices without prior judicial experience tend to come from backgrounds in academia, the private practice of law, or law enforcement. *The 53 state courts of last resort include the supreme courts of all 50 states, the criminal courts of last resort in Oklahoma and Texas, which are separate from those states' supreme courts, and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.
The NCSC Backgrounder is designed to provide the media with statistics and facts related to current issues of interest.
The National Center for State Courts, headquartered in Williamsburg, Va., is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the administration of justice by providing leadership and service to the state courts. Founded in 1971 by the Conference of Chief Justices and Chief Justice of the United States Warren E. Burger, NCSC provides education, training, technology, management, and research services to the nation's state courts.