Former jobs of every Supreme Court justice
Since its establishment in 1789 by the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court has seen 17 chief justices, and 114 justices in total. Many landmark cases have passed through the Supreme Court of the U.S., having set precedents and changed the fabric of society. One of the court’s early cases includes the 1803 case Marbury v. Madison, which determined that the SCOTUS had the power to nullify a law set by Congress if it was in violation of the Constitution.
Over a century later under Chief Justice Earl Warren, the SCOTUS ruled in Roe v. Wade, establishing that in some cases, the right to an abortion is protected by the Constitution. Amid confirmation hearings to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat with Amy Coney Barrett, the topic of upholding Roe V. Wade has come up again, this time in terms of whether a conservative-majority court would vote to overturn that landmark decision.
The SCOTUS has been predominantly white and male since its founding. In fact, all but six of the court's 114 justices have been white men. Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman to be confirmed to the Supreme Court in 1981, and Thurgood Marshall was the first person of color to be appointed to the court in 1967. The current Supreme Court justices took different paths to achieve their current positions in the highest U.S. court. Ginsburg, who died Sept. 18, was appointed in 1993 and faced many challenges on her path to becoming a SCOTUS justice. She encountered sexism in her attempt to get clerkships as a female law graduate in the 1950s and received lower pay than her male colleagues when she taught at Rutgers Law School in the 1960s.
When Clarence Thomas was applying for jobs as a new law graduate, he found that some law firms did not take his Yale juris doctorate degree seriously because the university had been trying to fulfill quotas of African American students at the time. Sonia Sotomayor spoke out in support of Hispanic rights as a student and as a judge, and experienced roadblocks when she was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals due to Republican beliefs that President Bill Clinton was trying to facilitate her nomination as the first Hispanic person in the Supreme Court. She was confirmed to the SCOTUS in 2009.
Using sources including ThoughtCo, The Los Angeles Times, and The New Yorker, Stacker has compiled an account of the educational and professional history of each current Supreme Court justice. Each justice’s background is divided into three slides, including education, early career life, and professional life in the years leading up to their tenures on the Supreme Court.
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John Roberts: Education
Current Chief Justice John Roberts earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University in 1976 and stayed on to obtain his J.D. in ‘79. In his undergraduate degree, he wrote a thesis paper on early 20th-century British liberalism. In law school, he worked as managing editor of the Harvard Law Review and as a law clerk.
John Roberts: Early career life
As a new law graduate, Roberts clerked for appellate Judge Henry Friendly and William Rehnquist, whom he succeeded on the Supreme Court. In the 1980s, Roberts served as special assistant to U.S. Attorney General William French Smith, and then as associate counsel to President Ronald Reagan. While working for the law firm Hogan & Hartson in the mid-1980s, Roberts carried out pro bono work for LGBTQ+ rights activists and prepped arguments for the 1996 case Romer v. Evans, which involved sexual orientation as related to state law.
In 1989, Roberts took on the role of principal deputy solicitor general under President George H. W. Bush. After three years as solicitor general, he returned to practicing law privately and taught law at Georgetown University. He was part of the team of lawyers that advised Gov. Jeb Bush during the 2000 presidential election recount in Florida.
John Roberts: Before the Supreme Court
In 2001, Roberts was nominated to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (D.C. Circuit) but was not confirmed until 2003 due to disagreements between the Bush administration and the majority Democratic Senate. As a Supreme Court judge, Roberts ruled over several significant cases, including Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which was a question of the legal validity of military tribunals.
In 2005, President George W. Bush initially nominated Roberts to the Supreme Court to fill the shoes of Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who had retired. However, upon the death of William Rehnquist later that year, Bush renominated Roberts to the role of chief justice. Regarding his judicial philosophy, Roberts likened judges to baseball umpires, saying "it's my job to call the balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat."
Brett Kavanaugh: Education
The most recently confirmed Supreme Court justice received both his B.A. and J.D. from Yale, the latter in 1990. During his time at Yale Law School, Kavanaugh was an editor for the Yale Law Journal. He reportedly said during his law school confirmation hearing testimony, "I got into Yale Law School. That's the number-one law school in the country. I had no connections there. I got there by busting my tail in college."
Brett Kavanaugh: Early career life
In his early years in law, Kavanaugh worked as a clerk for judges in the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Third and Ninth Circuits. In the early 1990s, he completed a year-long fellowship with U.S. solicitor general at the time, Ken Starr, with whom he returned to work years later as an associate counselor in the Office of the Independent Counsel. In this role, Kavanaugh helmed the writing of the 1998 Starr Report to Congress, which detailed the scandal involving Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.
In late 2000, Kavanaugh became part of George W. Bush’s legal team that strove to stop the recount of Florida ballots in the controversial 2000 presidential election between Bush and Al Gore. From 2003 to 06, he worked as assistant to President George W. Bush and White House Staff Secretary.
Brett Kavanaugh: Before the Supreme Court
In 2003, President Bush nominated Kavanaugh to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, but his confirmation was delayed for three years because Senatorial Democrats believed him to be too biased. Kavanaugh asserted his conservative views on a host of important issues, including abortion and employment discrimination, throughout his 12 years as a judge on the appeals court.
Following Donald Trump’s nomination of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in July 2018, Christine Blasey Ford publicly stated that Kavanaugh had sexually molested her when they were in high school. During Senate Judiciary Committee hearings in September 2018, Kavanaugh vehemently denied the allegations. After an FBI investigation yielded no substantial evidence to validate Ford’s claim, the Senate confirmed Kavanaugh in a 50-48 vote on Oct. 6, 2018.
Samuel A. Alito Jr.: Education
Samuel Alito graduated from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in 1972. He then received his law degree from Yale in 1975, where he was editor of the Yale Law Journal. While at Princeton, Alito chaired a 1971 student conference called “The Boundaries of Privacy in American Society,” which, among other things, called for a statute and a court to govern national security surveillance, elimination of discrimination against gay people in hiring processes, and the decriminalization of sodomy. The extent to which the conference agenda mirrors Alito’s personal convictions is unknown.
Samuel A. Alito Jr.: Early career life
After graduating from law school, Alito clerked under Judge Leonard Garth in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. From the early to mid-1980s, he worked as Deputy Assistant to the U.S. Solicitor General Rex E. Lee, under whom he argued 12 cases for the federal government in the Supreme Court. From 1987 to 1990, Alito served as the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, appointed by Ronald Reagan. In this role, he successfully prosecuted the 1988 case of an FBI agent who was shot in the field and prosecuted a sympathizer of the Japanese Red Army who was found with homemade bombs in his car at a New Jersey Turnpik service center.
Samuel A. Alito Jr.: Before the Supreme Court
From 1990 until his nomination to the Supreme Court, Alito worked as a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Although broadly conservative in his judicial approach, he handled rulings on each case differently.
As the son of an Italian immigrant, Alito was understanding of the issues of people he found similar to himself, exemplified in the case of Fatin v. INS, in which an Iranian woman was seeking asylum. In 2005, President George W. Bush nominated Alito to replace Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court, and he was confirmed the following year. Alito still rules based on the case at hand, though he frequently veers on the side of conservatism.
Stephen Breyer: Education
Before Stephen Breyer graduated from Harvard Law School with an LL.B. (a bachelor of laws degree) in 1964, he earned a bachelor of arts in philosophy from Stanford in ‘59, and studied philosophy, politics, and economics as a Marshall Scholar at Oxford’s Magdalen College. While at Harvard, Breyer worked as an editor for the Harvard Law Review and graduated magna cum laude.2018 All rights reserved.