Some Supreme Court Term Stats

  1. Gorsuch recently surpassed James F. Byrnes’ tenure of 452 days on the court, but has a ways to go before he catches up with John Rutledge’s 563 days (26 October 2018).
  2. Thomas will become the longest sitting justice after Kennedy retires (effective end of July 2018). To score the all-time sittingest justice (held by William Douglas) he would have to remain for another ~3600 days (20 May 2028).
  3. We can call the court “old” or “young” based on whether a majority of justices have sat longer than the median (5740 days) justice sat. The court is currently “young,” and will become slightly younger with Kennedy being replaced.
  4. Assuming no other changes to the court, it will become “old” on 20 October 2021, when Alito will have sat longer than the median.
  5. The current court has three sets of “twin justices”—justices who joined the court within about a year of one another: Ginsburg and Breyer (1993, 1994); Robert and Alito (2005, 2006); and Sotomayor and Kagan (2009, 2010). (Thomas was a twin with Souter, but the latter has left the court.)
  6. Looking at “twins” from 1950 on, the average difference between their departures is around 20 years. It’s likely either Gorsuch or Kennedy’s replacement will leave the court at least a decade before the other.
  7. Since 1950, the longest stretch without a seating was 4075 days (1994-2005). That drought was the second longest (longest was 1812-1823, 4228 days). To break the record would put the next seating sometime in 2030.

Kennedy’s replacement will likely shift the direction of the court. The new court could imperil long-standing and important matters including voting rights, women’s rights, healthcare, immigration, and even the ability of the government to fight public corruption.

But a shift in power tends to be balanced in other ways. As the court moves right (as seems likely), it will begin to face cases on new laws drafted by an increasingly liberal legislature. It will also face briefs that employ its old rulings in new ways.

In short, the Republican dream of a far-right activist court will cost them seats in Congress and will ultimately cause the people to push for legislative and constitutional remedies to any bad decisions that come forth.