Presidents and the Supreme Court

Today we tiptoe into the minefield of politics.

Recently much has been made about presidential appointments to the Supreme Court, and with good reason.  Our highest court has the final say on what the law of the land actually means. Within a year and a half of taking office, President Trump gets to appoint two Supreme Court justices.  How unusual is this, and what kind of result can we expect?

This gets into very subjective territory.  It’s another way to rate presidents, which I discussed once before (  It takes some careful analysis to find common denominators over two-plus centuries of U.S. history.

But people still try.  The first measure would be the number of appointments.  George Washington, since as first president he got the ball rolling, leads the list with 11 justices appointed.  Our longest-serving chief executive, Franklin Roosevelt, is second with nine appointments.   But four presidents had no appointments: William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor, who both died early in their terms; Jimmy Carter, who served four years without a single vacancy; and Andrew Johnson, whose nominee failed when Congress reduced the number of court seats (the Constitution does not stipulate a fixed number of justices).  So having at least two vacancies means Trump can shape the court for several decades to come.

Another approach is the number of years a president’s appointees serve on the Court.  Time has compiled just such a list in graph form.  Not surprisingly, Franklin Roosevelt’s appointments  served the longest — over 140 years — followed by Andrew Jackson (137 years) and Abraham Lincoln (102 years).  John Quincy Adams brings up the rear with one appointment for only two years.

So no matter how you look at it, circumstances have given Donald Trump quite an opportunity.

To read more and view the graph of “Presidents Ranked By Supreme Court Influence” and total lengths of service, see “Here’s How Donald Trump’s Influence on the Supreme Court Compares to Other Presidents” by By David Johnson and Abigail Simon at  The graph is interactive and will give statistics on each appointee.

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