Contact:  Sandy Adkins
Communications Specialist
National Center for State Courts

For first time since 1789, U.S. Supreme Court is absent a jurist with state court experience

Williamsburg, Va. (April 15, 2010) — The U.S. Supreme Court is comprised of nine distinguished jurists, but since the retirement of Justice David H. Souter at the end of the 2008 term, the court has been bereft of even a single member who brings jurisprudential experience from the lower courts that comprise more than 95 percent of the American judicial system. Perhaps even more remarkable, this is the first time since 1789 that the highest court in the land has not included a member with at least some judicial experience from the state courts.

The reduction in members of the Supreme Court with at least some state court experience has been gradual but distinct. The successor to Justice John Paul Stevens, who announced his upcoming retirement last week, will be the 112th justice to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Nearly half of those justices — 49 — came to the high court with either state trial or appellate court experience. Ten members served at both the state trial and appellate levels prior to their elevation to the U.S. Supreme Court, including, most recently, Justices Souter, Sandra Day O’Connor, and William J. Brennan, Jr.

However, in the last 50 years, only two of 19 justices — Souter and O’Connor — have been confirmed with state court experience in their qualification sets. In the 50 years prior to that, nine of the 32 justices confirmed brought state court experience to the nation’s court of last resort.

According to 
 SCOTUSblog, of cases that were heard in the 2008-09 term, "state courts accounted for the second largest percentage of the (U.S. Supreme Court’s) docket (19%)". In the prior term, cases originating in state courts were the top source at 16 percent.

Until recently, both former state trial and appellate court judges have been represented on the highest court, though there was a nearly 20-year gap from 1938-57 when no former state appellate judge sat on the nation’s highest court.


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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.