There have been 115 Supreme Court justices in history. Only 7 were not White men


Of those, 108 have been White men.

Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, would help broaden the diversity of the court.

Jackson, who is African American, would succeed justice Stephen Breyer, who is retiring at the end of the court’s term. Breyer is White.

In recent decades the court has become more diverse. Almost half of its justices since 1990 have been women or minorities.

But for most of its history, the nation’s highest court has looked like a chummy private men’s club from a not-so-distant time.

Here’s how the demographics of the Supreme Court have stacked up since its beginning.

Five have been women

History's five Supreme Court justices. Top row, from left: Sandra Day O'Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. Bottom row, from left, Elena Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett.

Of the 115 justices, 110 — or 95.6% — have been men.

For almost 200 years, every single Supreme Court justice was male. But Ronald Reagan pledged as a presidential candidate that he’d put a woman on the court, and during his first year in office in 1981 he kept that promise by appointing Sandra Day O’Connor.
Before that, presidents had appointed women to lower courts, but no one gave serious thought publicly to putting one on the Supreme Court. President Harry Truman considered nominating a woman, but the justices at the time feared a woman’s presence on the court “would inhibit their conference deliberations.”

Bill Clinton made the second female appointment by nominating Ginsburg in 1993.

Barack Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor in 2009, followed by Elena Kagan a year later. Donald Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett in 2020 after Ginsburg’s death.

Sotomayor, Kagan and Barrett remain on the current court.

Three have been people of color

From left, Thurgood Marshall, Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas.
Only two African American justices, Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, have served on the court so far.
The first appointment — when Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Marshall — wasn’t until 1967. When Johnson announced the nomination, he said he thought it was the right thing to do and the right time to do it.

Thomas’s appointment happened decades later, in 1991 under George H. W. Bush (the first Bush).

Ketanji Brown Jackson would become the court’s third Black justice — and its first Black woman.

Sotomayor, one of the five female justices, is also the first and only Hispanic justice in history. (Some say Justice Benjamin Cardozo, who was Portuguese, was the first Hispanic member, but he doesn’t qualify under current US census standards.)

No justices so far have identified as Asian, Native American or Pacific Islander.

7 percent have been Jewish

Associate Justice Elena Kagan.

At its founding, the court was made up of almost entirely Protestant members, and a majority of the 115 justices throughout history have been Protestants.

Today’s court is more diverse when it comes to religion.

We’ve never had a Jewish president, but eight Jewish justices have sat on the bench, including current justices Kagan and Breyer.

The current court also has six Catholics. Neil Gorsuch, who Trump nominated in 2017, was raised Catholic but now worships at an Episcopal church.

There has never been a Muslim justice on the Supreme Court.

None have identified as anything other than heterosexual

No past or present justices have publicly identified themselves as anything other than straight.

There have been speculations surrounding a few former justices who were lifelong bachelors, but there’s no evidence any of them were gay.

Why having a diverse court matters

The Supreme Court has ruled on a diverse set of topics and sees a wide array of cases.

It’s laid out decisions that affect many segments of the nation’s population, like whether schools should be segregated, whether women can get abortions and if public accommodations can refuse services based on religious beliefs.
Sometimes the court hears cases that none of its members can directly relate to. Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage, was decided by nine justices, none of whom identified as gay.

In 2016, Sotomayor said the court could use more diversity.

“A different perspective can permit you to more fully understand the arguments that are before you and help you articulate your position in a way that everyone will understand,” she said.

This is an updated version of a story that was first published in 2018.



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