List of Jewish United States Supreme Court justices

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Louis Brandeis became the first Jewish justice of the Supreme Court of the United States in 1916, following nomination by President Woodrow Wilson, and a contentious confirmation. Towards the end of his tenure on the Supreme Court, Brandeis was joined by the nation's second Jewish justice, Benjamin Cardozo in 1932, who was succeeded by Felix Frankfurter, Arthur Goldberg and Abe Fortas. Eight Jewish justices have served on the Court, including the three currently serving, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.


Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish justice.

In 1916, Louis Brandeis became the first Jewish nominee to the Supreme Court, and after a tumultuous hearing process, he was confirmed later that same year.[1] The 1932 appointment of Benjamin Cardozo raised mild controversy for placing two Jewish justices on the Court at the same time, although the appointment was widely lauded based on Cardozo's qualifications, and the Senate was unanimous in confirming Cardozo.[2] Brandeis was succeeded by Protestant William O. Douglas, but Cardozo was succeeded by three consecutive Jewish justices, the first being Felix Frankfurter. Frankfurter was followed by Arthur Goldberg and Abe Fortas, each of whom filled what became known as the "Jewish Seat".[3] After Fortas resigned in 1969, he was replaced by Protestant Harry Blackmun.

No Jews were nominated thereafter until President Ronald Reagan nominated Douglas H. Ginsburg in 1987 to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Lewis F. Powell; however, this nomination was withdrawn, and the Court remained without any Jewish justices until 1993, when Ruth Bader Ginsburg (unrelated to Douglas Ginsburg) was appointed to replace Justice Byron White. Ginsburg was followed in relatively quick succession by the appointment of Stephen Breyer in 1994 to replace Justice Harry Blackmun. Following the confirmation of Ginsburg and Breyer, the Supreme Court Historical Society published The Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court Revisited: Brandeis to Fortas in 1994, with forewords by both currently serving Jewish justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.[4]

On May 10, 2010, President Barack Obama nominated Solicitor General Elena Kagan to fill the vacancy being left by the resignation of Justice John Paul Stevens. Kagan was confirmed by the Senate on August 5, 2010 by a vote of 63–37,[5] and was sworn in as the 112th justice of the Supreme Court on August 7, 2010 by Chief Justice John Roberts.[6]


The Roberts Court, which in 2010 featured three sitting Jewish justices for the first time in the Court's history.

Negative reaction to the appointment of the early Jewish justices did not come exclusively from outside the Court. Justice James Clark McReynolds refused to speak to Brandeis for three years following the latter's appointment and, when Brandeis retired in 1939, did not sign the customary dedicatory letter sent to Court members on their retirement. During Benjamin Cardozo's swearing in ceremony, McReynolds pointedly read a newspaper muttering "another one" and did not attend that of Felix Frankfurter, exclaiming "My God, another Jew on the Court!"[7]

After the nomination of Elena Kagan in 2010 to be the third sitting Jewish justice, conservative political commentator Pat Buchanan stated that, "If Kagan is confirmed, Jews, who represent less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, will have 33 percent of the Supreme Court seats."[8]



  † Chief justice 
  Currently serving justice 

# Judge State Born/Died Active service Chief Justice Retirement Appointed by Reason for
Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States
1 Brandeis, LouisLouis Brandeis MA 1856–1941 1916–1939
(23 years)
(2 years)
Wilson Retirement[9]
2 Cardozo, BenjaminBenjamin N. Cardozo NY 1870–1938 1932–1938
(6 years)
Hoover Death[10]
3 Frankfurter, FelixFelix Frankfurter MA 1882–1965 1939–1962
(23 years)
(3 years)
Roosevelt, F. Retirement[9]
4 Goldberg, ArthurArthur Goldberg IL 1908–1990 1962–1965
(3 years)
Kennedy Resignation[11]
5 Fortas, AbeAbe Fortas TN 1910–1982 1965–1969
(4 years)
Johnson, L. Resignation[12]
6 Ginsburg, RuthRuth Bader Ginsburg NY 1933– 1993–present
(21 years)
Clinton Currently serving
7 Breyer, StephenStephen Breyer MA 1938– 1994–present
(20 years)
Clinton Currently serving
8 Kagan, ElenaElena Kagan NY 1960– 2010–present
(4 years)
Obama Currently serving


Elena Kagan Stephen Breyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg Abe Fortas Arthur Goldberg Felix Frankfurter Benjamin N. Cardozo Louis Brandeis


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Louis D. Brandeis
  2. ^ New York Times, February 25, 1932, p. 1.
  3. ^ "Waiting for a Court Vacancy", By Ken Rudin, Political Junkie, National Public Radio, June 29, 2005. Retrieved May 2, 2007.
  4. ^ Lowe, Jennifer M., ed. (1994). The Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court Revisited: Brandeis to Fortas. Stephen G. Breyer (preface), Ruth Bader Ginsburg (introduction). Supreme Court Historical Society. ASIN B00136260C. ISBN 0914785008. OCLC 31741484. 
  5. ^ "Senate approves Kagan for high court". CNN. August 5, 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-05. 
  6. ^ Baker, Peter (August 7, 2010). "Kagan to Be Sworn in as 112th Supreme Court Justice". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-07. 
  7. ^ Henry Julian Abraham, Justices, Presidents, and Senators: A History of the U.S. Supreme Court Appointments from Washington to Bush II (2007), p. 140.
  8. ^ Linkins, Jason (May 14, 2010). "Pat Buchanan: Too Many Jews On The Supreme Court". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2010-07-28. 
  9. ^ a b Beginning in the Twentieth Century, many Justices who have left the Court voluntarily have done so by retiring as Supreme Court Justices, but have not left the federal judiciary altogether. Some databases refer to this as an election by the Justice of senior status, although in practice the term "senior status" is used almost exclusively with regard to judges of lower federal courts, not the Supreme Court. A "retired Justice" is no longer a Member of the Supreme Court of the United States, but remains eligible to serve by designation as a judge of a U.S. Court of Appeals or District Court (and many retired Justices have indeed served in these capacities). However, because the Justice ceases to be a Member of the Supreme Court as of the moment of retirement, the reason for these Justices' leaving the Supreme Court is properly given as "retirement," although the reason for the Justice's later leaving the federal judiciary altogether might be a subsequent act of (full) retirement or the Justice's death.
  10. ^ "Here Lies the Supreme Court: Gravesites of the Justices". Supreme Court Historical Society. Archived from the original on 2005-09-03. Retrieved 2010-07-28. 
  11. ^ "Arthur Joseph Goldberg". Law Library – American Law and Legal Information. Retrieved 2010-07-28. 
  12. ^ "Abe Fortas resigns from Supreme Court May 15, 1969". Politico. May 15, 2008. Retrieved 2010-07-28. 

External links[edit]