THE BLOG
05/19/2010 02:25 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A History of Jewish Appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court

Nothing is more important in U.S. law than the Supreme Court. It is the ultimate arbiter of decisions made in all other courts and it alone can decide if a law passed by Congress or a decision made by the administration is "unconstitutional." Its importance is demonstrated by the constant fights in the U.S. Senate over the Senate's role to "advise and consent" on appointments to the federal bench, including the appeals courts, and ultimately, the Supreme Court.

It took more than a century for a Jew to be appointed to the Supreme Court. Louis Brandeis became the first Jewish associate justice when he was confirmed in 1916. This was 127 years after the first Supreme Court appointment (John Jay in 1789.) Since Brandeis was the sixty-seventh Supreme Court justice named in the history of the court, one might argue it was not really statistically overdue since Jews did not represent even 2.2 percent of the population until 1910.

Nonetheless, after Brandeis' appointment, the pace changed dramatically. As of mid-2010, eight of all 112 justices confirmed (7 %)-- assuming nominee Elena Kagan is approved-- will have been Jewish, statistically exceeding the percentage of the US Jewish population (2%). The nomination also understates the magnitude of the change since Brandeis. In the ninety-six years since his appointment, there have been forty-six confirmed justices. Eight of those forty-six (17 %) have been Jews. In the forty-eight years since Arthur Goldberg was appointed in 1962, and including Goldberg, five of nineteen appointments (26 %) have been Jews. And finally, including Kagan, three of the last six appointments (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 1993, Stephen G. Breyer, 1994, and Elena Kagan, 2010) have been Jews.

That three of our nine Supreme Court Justices (16 times their percentage of the U.S. population) are now Jews indicates just how remarkable their achievement has been.


Author The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement