Associate Justice

From Ballotpedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Supreme Court of the United States

Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States are the members of the Supreme Court of the United States other than the Chief Justice of the United States. The authority of the Supreme Court is granted by Section I of Article III of the United States Constitution, which reads:

The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The judges, both of the supreme and inferior courts, shall hold their offices during good behaviour, and shall, at stated times, receive for their services, a compensation, which shall not be diminished during their continuance in office.[1] [2]

Nomination and confirmation

Justices to the Supreme Court are nominated by the President of the United States and confirmed by the United States Senate. Once justices are confirmed, they are appointed for life and are only removed from office by death, retirement or impeachment.

Oath of office

Each Supreme Court Justice must take two oaths of office before joining the court; the constitutional oath of office required of all federal employees and the judicial oath, as found in the Judiciary Act of 1789.[3]

Number of justices

Sound byte
Click this link for Franklin D. Roosevelt's Fireside Chat from March 9, 1937, where he explained the need for the Reorganization Bill.

There are eight Associate Justices on the Supreme Court (plus the Chief Justice). This number of justices was set by the Judiciary Act of 1869.

One notable attempt to increase the number of Associate Justices came from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who proposed the Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937. In what was seen as an attempt to allow New Deal legislation to stand, Roosevelt proposed appointing a new justice for every sitting justice over the age of 70. This would have amounted to six new justices at the time. Later, the Reorganization Bill was passed without the additional justice provision.[4]


Unless a justice has recused from a case, he or she signs on to the opinion of the court. Because of the deliberation that occurs regarding opinions, no court opinion is official until it is released to the public (or more often, delivered in court).

The Justices' Conference Room

Assigning opinions is one of the most important tools the Chief Justice has for building consensus. The Chief Justice has the authority to write any opinion, in the majority or dissent. From there, the Chief Justice may assign an opinion to an Associate Justice, and often wields this tool to attract a justice to an opinion.

When any justice drafts an opinion, he or she must take into account the points of view of their colleagues. If the authoring justice deviates from the consensus, the other justices may draft concurring or dissenting opinions.

The step of drafting opinions is confidential; the public is never aware of how a final opinion has changed from its original form. Experts of the court, however, look to the final opinions, votes and how long it took to draft as signs to determine how an opinion changed from hearing to announcement.[5]


The Chief Justice of the United States earns $223,500 annually, while Associate Justices receive $213,900.

When the court was created in 1789, the Chief Justice made $4,000 a year and the Associate Justices received $3,500.[6]


Associate Justices have seniority by appointment; if two justices are appointed in the same day, seniority is based on age.[7]

Seniority determines the order in which justices sit during oral argument, but also has interesting ramifications. For instance, the Associate Justice with the least seniority must answer the door to the conference room while justices are meeting and also takes notes. During conference, when justices verbally announce their votes before opinions are drafted, they also speak in order of seniority.

One funny example of Supreme Court traditions and seniority was recounted by Justice Stephen Breyer, who was the justice with least seniority (junior justice) on the court for ten years. After answering the door with coffee from an aide for Justice Antonin Scalia, Breyer said, "I've been doing this for 10 years. I've gotten pretty good at it, haven't I?" To which, Scalia replied, "No, you haven't."[8]

Retired Associate Justices

If a justice retires from the Supreme Court, he or she is still a member. They take senior status and may serve on a specific case on a different federal court at the behest of the Chief Justice.[9][10]

See also

External links