Some Supreme Court Trivia

The White House says that Judge Sotomayor has more experience on the federal bench than any Supreme Court nominee in the last one hundred years.  Does anyone know who the last nominee with more was?  (Holmes was on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court for twenty years before TR picked him, but I guess they are referring to someone else.)

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6 Responses

  1. Gerard Magliocca says:


    I think he was on the Kansas Supreme Court for much of that 28 years, though, which wouldn’t count as an exceptionally long federal tenure.

  2. Sarah Lawsky says:

    I’m sorry, I totally misread that Wikipedia entry. You’re right. In that case, I have no idea, and am very curious to hear what other folks have to say, as I’ve now spent an unconscionable amount of time looking through info about Supreme Court justices and can’t find a single one (or even a failed nominee!) who had more than Sotomayor’s 16 years on the federal bench.

  3. Gerard Magliocca says:

    Justice Lurton (not exactly a household name) was a circuit judge for 16 years before his elevation in 1909. Maybe they mean him.

  4. Milbarge says:

    Horace Lurton comes close. He spent sixteen years, eight months on the Sixth Circuit before President Taft nominated him. (And he was the Dean at Vanderbilt while he was on the bench!) He was the oldest nominee (65) and only served four years before dying. Judge Sotomayor has sixteen years, nine months (and counting) on the federal bench. But maybe Lurton is who they’re thinking of; she only exceeds his service by twenty days (as of today).

    Here’s another trivia question for you: Which Supreme Court nominee had the longest overall lower federal court tenure? I think it’s a bit of a trick question. I haven’t done comprehensive research, but I’d bet on Fourth Circuit Judge Clement Haynsworth, nominated by President Nixon but rejected by the Senate in 1969. He served over 32 years on the bench, 24 in active service. I wonder if anyone can beat that, although D.C. Circuit Judge Douglas Ginsburg might in the future (nominated but withdrawn in 1987; 22 years of service so far).

  5. Bruce Boyden says:

    Holmes is a better comparison. State supreme courts in major states like Massachusetts and New York was where all the action was in the 19th century — those would have been the judges with the most relevant experience, as opposed to import duties or whatever it is federal lower court judges used to do before incorporation, the rise of the administrative state, and federal criminal law.