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List of judges of the Supreme Court of Missouri

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The following is a list of all of the individuals who have served on the Supreme Court of Missouri.

Missouri's Supreme Court had three judges from 1820 until 1872, when it was increased to five. In 1890 the number of judges was increased to seven, which is still the standard.

Only the Chief Justice is referred to as "justice" while other members are referred to as "judge." The chief justice is typically elected to a two-year term on a rotating basis by a vote of the Supreme Court judges.[1]

Name County Term as Judge
Mathias McGirk Montgomery 1821–1841
John Dillar Cook Cape Girardeau 1821–1823
John Rice Jones Washington 1821–1824
Rufus Pettibone St. Louis 1823–1825
George Tompkins Howard 1824–1845
Robert Wash St. Louis 1825–1837
John Cummins Edwards Cole 1837–1839
William Barclay Napton Saline 1839–1849
William Scott Cole 1841–1843
Priestly H. McBride Monroe 1845–1848
John Ferguson Ryland Lafayette 1849
James Harvey Birch Clinton 1849
James Harvey Birch Clinton 1850–1851
John Ferguson Ryland Lafayette 1850–1857
Hamilton Rowan Gamble St. Louis 1850–1855
William Scott Cole 1851–1862
Abiel Leonard Howard 1855–1857
John Crowley Richardson St. Louis 1857–1859
William Barclay Napton Saline 1857–1861
Ephraim Brevard Ewing Ray 1859–1861
Barton Bates St. Charles 1862–1865
John D. S. Dryden Marion 1862–1865
William Van Ness Bay St. Louis 1862–1865
David Wagner Lewis 1865–1877
Walter L. Lovelace Montgomery 1865–1866
Nathaniel Holmes St. Louis 1865–1868
Thomas James Clark Flagg Pike 1866–1868
James Baker Greene 1868
Philemon Bliss Buchanan 1868–1872
Warren Currier St. Louis 1868–1872
Washington Adams Cooper 1871–1874
William Barclay Napton Saline 1873–1880
Henry M. Vories Buchanan 1873–1876
Thomas Adiel Sherwood Greene 1873–1902
Edward Augustus Lewis St. Louis 1874
Warwick Hough Jackson 1875–1884
Elijah Hise Norton Platte 1877–1888
John Ward Henry Macon 1876–1888
Robert D. Ray Carroll 1881–1890
Francis Marion Black Jackson 1885–1894
Theodore Brace Monroe 1887–1907
Shephard Barclay St. Louis 1889–1898
James Britton Gantt Henry 1891–1910
John Lilburn Thomas Jefferson 1890–1892
George Bennett MacFarlane Audrain 1890–1898
Gavon Drummond Burgess Linn 1893–1910
Waltour Moss Robinson Jasper 1895–1904
William Muir Williams Cooper 1898
William Champe Marshall St. Louis 1899–1906
Leroy D. Valliant St. Louis 1899–1912
James David Fox Madison 1903–1910
Henry Lamm Pettis 1905–1914
Waller Washington Graves Bates 1906–1928
Archelaus Marius Woodson Buchanan 1907–1925
Franklin Ferriss St. Louis 1910–1912
John Kennish Jackson 1910–1913
John Chilton Brown Carter 1911–1915
Henry Whitelaw Bond St. Louis 1913–1919
Charles Breckenridge Faris Pemiscot 1913–1919
Robert Franklin Walker Morgan 1913–1930
James Thomas Blair DeKalb 1915–1924
Charles G. Revelle St. Francois 1915–1916
Fred Lincoln Williams Jasper 1917–1920
John Isaac Williamson Jackson 1919–1920
Richard Livingston Goode St. Louis 1919–1922
Conway Elder St. Louis 1921–1922
Edward Higbee Adair 1921–1922
David Elmore Blair Jasper 1921–1930
William T. Ragland Monroe 1922–1932[2]
John Turner White Greene 1923–1932
Frank Ely Atwood Carroll 1925–1934
Robert William Otto Franklin 1925–1926
Ernest S. Gantt Audrain 1927–1946
North Todd Gentry Boone 1928
William Francis Frank Adair 1929–1938
Berryman Henwood Marion 1930–1932
George Robb Ellison Nodaway 1931–1955
Charles Thomas Hays Marion 1933–1942
Clarence Alexander Burney Jackson 1933
Ernest M. Tipton Jackson 1933–1955
Charles A. Leedy Jr. Jackson 1933–1964
Walter D. Coles St. Louis 1935
John Caskie Collet Chariton 1935–1937
James Marsh Douglas St. Louis 1937–1949
Raymond B. Lucas Scott 1938
Albert M. Clark Ray 1939–1950
Laurance M. Hyde Mercer 1943–1966
Roscoe P. Conkling Buchanan 1947–1954
Sidna Poage Dalton Cape Girardeau 1950–1965
Frank Hollingsworth Audrain 1950–1964
Henry J. Westhues Howard 1954–1963
Henry I. Eager Jackson 1955–1968
Clem F. Storckman St. Louis City 1955–1970
Lawrence Holman Randolph 1963–1977
Fred L. Henley Pemiscot 1964–1978
James A. Finch Jr. Cape Girardeau 1965–1978
Robert True Donnelly Laclede 1965–1988
Robert Eldridge Seiler Jasper 1967–1982
June P. (J. P.) Morgan Livingston 1969–1982
John E. Bardgett St. Louis 1970–1982
Albert L. Rendlen Marion 1977–1992
Joseph J. Simeone St. Louis 1978–1979
Warren Dee Welliver Boone 1979–1989
Andrew Jackson Higgins Platte 1979–1991
George F. Gunn Jr. St. Louis 1982–1985
William Howard Billings Dunklin 1982–1991
Charles Blakey Blackmar St. Louis 1982–1992
Edward D. Robertson Jr. Cole 1985–1998
Ann K. Covington Boone 1989–2001
John C. Holstein Howell 1989–2002
William Duane Benton Cole 1991–2004
Elwood L. Thomas Clay 1991–1995
William Ray Price Jr. Jackson 1992-2012
Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr. Cape Girardeau 1992–2008
Ronnie L. White St. Louis 1995–2007
Michael A. Wolff St. Louis 1998–2011
Laura Denvir Stith Jackson 2001–present
Richard B. Teitelman St. Louis City 2002–2016
Mary Rhodes Russell Marion 2004–present
Patricia Breckenridge Vernon 2007–present
Zel Fischer Atchison 2008–present
George W. Draper III St. Louis 2011–present
Paul C. Wilson Boone 2012–present
W. Brent Powell Greene 2017–present

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • ✪ A Conversation with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg about the 2016-17 term
  • ✪ Stop and identify statutes
  • ✪ John Marshall: The Man Who Made the Supreme Court
  • ✪ Supreme Court: The Term in Review (2016–2017) Part 1 of 2
  • ✪ The Most Controversial Justice Ever to Serve on the United States Supreme Court (2003)


Suddenly so silent. [LAUGHTER] Good evening and welcome to a conversation with Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Supreme Court of the United States. Many thanks to Duke Law School and Duke D.C. for sponsoring this event. My name is Neil Siegel. I am a Duke graduate, a Duke basketball fan, a former law clerk of Justice Ginsburg, and the David W. Ichel professor of law and professor of political science at Duke Law School where I also direct the law school’s D.C. summer institute on law and policy. The institute enables students who are thinking about law school to try it before they purchase it by taking short, introductory law school classes taught by Duke Law faculty each summer in our nation’s capital. The institute is in its fifth year. And over the past three summers we have been hosted in very fine fashion by Jones Day, one our nation’s premier law firms. Thank you once again, Jones Day. For the fifth year in a row now, we’re five for five, Justice Ginsburg is giving generously of her time and her mind by joining us for a conversation about law and life. Before becoming judge on the D.C. circuit in 1980, and a justice on the U.S. Supremer Court in 1993, she had already earned a prominent place in history. She persuaded those in positions of authority to honor, to a much greater extent than they ever had, a truth that ought to have been self evident but historically has not been, that women and girls too are part of the people in whose name the constitution purports to speaks. Her work as a justice, including in recent terms when she has written some of the most important opinions of her career, has reflected her commitment to the equal citizenship stature of people who historically did not count, or did not count nearly enough in constituting We the People. The justice will first offer us some highlights on the October 2016 term, that is the term that just ended in June. And then she and I will visit for a while. Justice, welcome, and thank you for making this evening possible. [APPLAUSE] Thank you, Neil, and I look forward to our conversation after I deliver my report on the 216 to 217 term at the Supreme Court. The largest headline news of the term was the appointment of a new justice to replace Justice Scalia. We sat with only eight justices for 14 months. Neil Gorsuch became the 113th justice in time to join us for our April 2017 sitting. He had just one week between his confirmation and the start of the sitting. And he managed to prepare, exceeding well, for 13 trying cases. He also cast himself as a potential rival to Justice Sotomayor as the justice who asks the most questions at oral arguments. [LAUGHTER] The principle in-house beneficiary of Justice Gorsuch’s appointment was Justice Kagan who is not longer our junior justice, meaning she escapes opening the conference room door when a messenger knocks, answering the rare ring of the telephone, and most daunting, conveying to the entourage from the clerk’s, the legal office, and the reporter’s office, the dispositions made at the conference. Justice Kagan also relinquished to Justice Gorsuch membership on the court’s cafeteria committee. [LAUGHTER] In that assignment Justice Kagan suffered grumbling with good humor, her signal achievement, the installation of a frozen yogurt machine. [LAUGHTER] A new statistic was reported this term, adding to the laugh meter and the count of questions asked by each justice, the average number of words from the bench per oral argument. Justice Breyer won hands down with 814 words. Justice Kagan took second place with 646, next Justice Sotomayor with 515, and I trailed with only 284. But running neck and neck as fastest justice in getting our opinions out, according a June 1 reckoning, a rapid Ruth and swift Sonya. [LAUGHTER] Twice during the term, Justice Breyer’s cell phone rang in the midst of oral arguments. Like spectators, the justice’s are expected to leave their phones and other electronic devices behind. After the second occasion, the chief justice had a metal detector frame placed in the corridor for Justice Breyer to pass through before ascending to the bench. [LAUGHTER] Most unforgettable argument of the term, Maslenjak against United States. The question presented, could a naturalized citizen be stripped of her citizenship if she committed an offense and failed to report it on her citizenship application, or if she made a false statement on the application. The chief justice was visibly shaken. Some time ago, of course outside the statute of limitations, he confessed he drove 60 miles in a 60 mile-per-hour zone. Would such a confession prompt cancellation of naturalization. Justice Kagan mused, “Can’t count how many times I’ve lied about my weight.” [LAUGHTER] Government council comfortingly responded, “Unless you did so under oath.” The court released 62 decisions and argued cases this term, dividing five to three or five to four in only nine. In comparison to that 15% sharp disagreement rate, we were unanimous at least in the bottom line judgement in 31 cases, fully half of the decisions rendered in argued cases. And in 21 of the 31 unanimous judgements, opinions were unanimous as well. Unanimous agreement, in short, is substantially higher than sharp disagreement. We decided several high profile cases this term. As one of them I would count Salman against the United States, an insider trading case that came to us from the Ninth Circuit. Section 10B of the Securities Exchange Act prohibits trading on insider information that other individuals buying and selling securities lack. The question presented, is Section 10B violated only when the tip providing insider receives and economic benefit from his tip? Or does a violation also occur when the insider provides the information as a gift to a family relation or a good friend who then trades on the tip? Sitting by designation saw the the District of New York Judge Rakoff wrote the Ninth Circuit’s opinion. It was at odds with the Second Circuit’s decision on the same issue. The Ninth Circuit held that 10B is violated, even when the insider provides the tip, not for personal pecuniary gain, but as a gift to a family member. In Salman, the tipper conveyed the information to an elder brother who was down on his luck. The Supremer Court unanimously confirmed Judge Rakoff’s position for the Ninth Circuit. A tipper’s gift of information to a trading relation or friend, the court held, sufficed to bring the statutory ban on insider trading into play. Justice Alito, the opinion author, observed, “In such situations, the tipper benefits personal because giving a gift of trading information is the same thing as trading by the tipper himself, followed by a gift of the proceeds to the relative or friend.” Two cases from the Second Circuit, Sessions against Morales-Santana and Ziglar against Abbasi, were among the most closely watched cases. Morales-Santana concerned a birthright citizenship statute that treated unwed U.S. citizen mothers more favorably than unwed U.S. citizen fathers. A child born abroad to an unwed U.S. citizen mother would acquire U.S. citizenship at birth if her mother had previously resided in the United States for a continuous period of one year. Unwed U.S. citizen fathers were subject to a much more demanding residency requirement. Morales-Santana was born abroad to a U.S. citizen father and a Dominican mother. Because his father hadn’t lived in the United States more than five years after turning 14, Morales-Santana did not meet the statutory qualification for U.S. citizenship at birth. Congress’s specification of different physical presence requirements for unwed citizen mothers and fathers, the Second Circuit held, is incompatible with the equal protection principle. Six of the eight participating justices joined in affirming that equal protection holding. But then the court addressed the toughest question in the case. And the court ultimately concluded that striking down rather than extending the favorable treatment for unwed mothers was the remedy that congress would have preferred had it known of the constitution infirmity of the gender-based differential it enacted. And that was so we explained because the longer period of residency applied to married parents, one a citizen, the other an alien, as well as to unwed fathers. Congress, we thought, would not have wanted the exception for unwed mothers to swallow the main rule. The Abassi litigation stemmed from the government’s immediate response in New York City to the September 11 tragedy. Plaintiffs sued prominent Department of Justice officials and wardens of the metropolitan detention center in Brooklyn, New York where the plaintiffs were confined for periods running from three to eight months. Those who were arrested had overstayed their visas, but were not accused of any criminal law infraction. The plaintiffs alleged discrimination based on the perception that they were Muslim. Their allegations were corroborated by an Inspector General’s Report. The plaintiffs charged that they were held in cramped cells for over 23 hours a day, kept awake by bright lights and loud sounds day and night, denied access to basic hygiene items like toilet paper, soap, towels, tooth paste and eating utensils, denied, for extended periods, telephone calls to families and lawyers, mail, and visitors, frequently and unnecessarily strip-searched and subjected to physical and verbal abuse, including being slammed against walls. The district court dismissed most of their claims, reversing, in part, the Second circuit held that many of their claims could pass the threshold. The Supreme Court took up the case with only six justices sitting. Justice Sotomayor, because she had been a participant in earlier proceedings in the case when she was a Second Circuit judge, and Justice Kagan, because she was our Solicitor General when the case was going through its various stages, and Justice Gorsuch had not yet joined the court when we arguments. Four justices voted to reverse in principle part. Pivotal to the case was a 1971 Supreme Court decision Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Bivins held that plaintiffs could state a claim for relief directly under the constitution. In Bivins itself, the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures, even when there was no statue granting a right to sue. Restrictively reading our precedent, the court held that Bivins did not reach claims like those asserted by Abbasi and his fellow plaintiffs, given the impelling interest in national security. Justice Breyer dissented in an opinion I joined. He took the unusual step of summarizing his dissent from the bench. That meant he thought the court’s opinion was not just wrong, but egregiously so. “Without a right to sue,” he urged, “the constitutional safeguards against arbitrary detention and abusive treatment of detainees would be toothless.” [17:19] Abbasi guided the court in a case decided soon after, Hernandez against Mesa. The episode there ensued a Border Patrol agent on the Texas side of the border fatally shot a 15-year-old Mexican national the agent spied while the boy was playing in a culvert separating the two countries. The boy's parents sued the officer seeking monetary compensation. Sitting in bank, the Fifth Circuit held that because the boy was shot while on the Mexican side of the border, the fourth amendment didn't apply to the officer’s use of deadly force. In an unsigned opinion the court instructed the Fifth Circuit to consider as an initial matter and in light of Abbasi whether a claim could be mounted onto Bivins. Again, Justice Breyer disented, and again, I joined him. The culvert was jointly controlled and maintained area, Justice Breyer emphasized. It should not be material and argued where in the culvert the bullet fired by the federal officer struck the boy. Bank of America against City of Miami presented a question of standing to sue that the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit characterized as ambitious. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in real estate transactions. Ordinarily, plaintiffs in fair housing cases are persons directly subject to housing discrimination. But in this case, a municipality, the City of Miami, complained. It alleged that the defendant banks had engaged in mortgage lending practices disfavoring African-American and Latino neighborhoods and residents. Was Miami an aggrieved person qualified to litigate such a claim? The city's contention: the bank's practices led to increased foreclosures and diminished home values, in turn, reducing property tax revenues and causing Miami to spend more on police, fire and maintenance services. Miami had standing to sue, the court held five to three, but to prevail in the litigation, the majority added, the city must show that the financial harm it asserted was in fact caused by the bank's practices and would not have occurred in any event. A case coming to us from the Federal Circuit, Matal against Tam, targeted Section 2A of the Lanham Act, a law prohibiting the Patent and Trademark Office from registering disparaging trademarks. Dance-rock band frontman Simon Tam sought to trademark the name he chose for his band, The Slants. His aim was to re-appropriate a term long used to disparage members of a minority group and to render the term, instead of a racial slur, a badge of pride. The Patent and Trademark Office refused to register the mark on the ground that it conflicted with the section I just mentioned because it disparaged people of Asian descent. Sitting in bank, a fractured Federal Circuit held that that prohibition, a viewpoint discriminatory measure, incompatible with the First Amendment. We affirmed that judgment. There were two opinions, each speaking for four justices, but we all agreed that a trademark is the trademark holders’ speech, not the government’s speech. The underlying issue has received considerably more attention in the dispute over the NFL’s Washington Redskins trademark. The Patent and Trademark Office canceled protection for Redskins trademarks in 2014 at the request of a group of Native Americans. A federal district court judge upheld the cancellation ruling that Redskins was disparaging to a substantial composite of Native Americans. The appeal to the Fourth Circuit was placed on hold pending our decision in the Slants case. One of the problems in these cases, what does disparaging mean? Beauty is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. To the trademark examiner, slants was a racial insult. To the Slants themselves it was an expression of pride in their heritage. In another First Amendment case, Packingham against North Carolina, the issue was access to the internet by former sex offenders. A state law made it a felony for a registered sex offender to access a broad array of commercial social networking websites unless the site was one that restricted membership to adults. Packingham had served a sentence for taking indecent liberties with a 13-year-old. He had served his time, and several years later he posted a note on his Facebook page celebrating his success in getting a traffic ticket dismissed. For that posting he was charged with violating North Carolina's law banning him from using Facebook, also, WebMD, the Washington Post and scores more. In defense of the statute, North Carolina stressed its vital interest in protecting children from sexual predators. But the law was stunningly over-broad, the Supreme Court held, because it barred Packingham from all the online platforms individuals use to gain information and engage in ordinary and protected speech, like interacting with elected representatives, obtaining online education, and finding gainful employment. Applying the First Amendment to the Internet, the Court recognized, will be a trying task. No doubt the future will bring many opportunities to do so. The religion clauses of the First Amendment figured in Trinity Lutheran Church against Comer. The case involved an application by the church to participate in Missouri scrap tire grant program, to reserve as a playground at its preschool and daycare facility. The State Department of Natural Resources denied funding on the ground at Trinity Lutheran was a church. The department did so relying on Article 1, Section 7 of the state constitution which provides no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion. Trinity Lutheran challenged the department's ruling, urging that its exclusion from the grant program violated the free exercise and equal protection clauses by discriminating on the basis of religious status. Disagreeing with the lower courts, the Supreme Court held that excluding the church from the grant program violated the Federal Constitution. A generally available benefit, the court reasoned, could not be withheld on account of the beneficiary's religious identity. In a dissent, I joined justice Sotomayor, explained that in her view the First Amendment's religion clauses demanded a stricter separation of church and state. Two cases on our docket concerned questions stemming from the court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. Obergefell held that same-sex couples must be afforded the same right to wed as heterosexual partners. In Pavan against Smith, we summarily reversed a decision of the Supreme Court of Arkansas concerning birth certificates. We held in a state may not denied to a married, same-sex couple the right afforded under state law to married, opposite-sex couples, to have the name of the birth mother's spouse entered as the second parent on the child's birth certificate. At the same time we granted review in a case arising under the Colorado Anti-discrimination Act, Masterpiece Cakeshop against Colorado Civil Rights Commission. A baker, based on his religious beliefs, refused to bake wedding cakes for same-sex couples. He would sell them cookies and ordinary cakes, but would not create cake celebrating their marriage. Colorado sanctioned him for violating the state's law, and we will decide next term whether the baker's claim to freedom of religion prevails over the state's application of its anti-discrimination law. Two cases from the 2016 to 2017 term will be reargued next term before a full bench of nine members. One of the two, Jennings against Rodriguez, involves certain aliens, who by statutory direction are subject to mandatory detention. The Ninth Circuit held that persons so detained must be accorded individual bond hearings at six-month intervals. Asserting that the political branches have plenary power over immigration and border control, the government urges that courts have no oversight role to play in that domain. The second case set for reargument is Sessions v. Dimaya. There the government seeks to deport a non-citizen based on two burglary convictions that the government asserts qualify as crimes of violence. The relevant definition of crimes are violence, any felony that is, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the personal property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense. The Ninth Circuit held this definition unconstitutionally vague because it generates uncertainty about how to gauge the risk posed by an offense, and about the degree of risk necessary for an offense to meet the crime of violence definition. For next term, we have so far granted review in 26 cases. One garnering considerable interest is Carpenter against United States. The Stored Communications Act permits the government to obtain, without getting a warrant, historical cell phone records that reveal a person's whereabouts over the course of several months. The petition in Carpenter asks whether the Constitution requires a warrant to access such records. The Sixth Circuit answered no. It held that a cell phone user voluntarily shares information, including her whereabouts, with her carrier. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals ruled no Fourth Amendment search occurs and no warrant is needed to gain the information. We also agreed to hear Gill against Whitford, perhaps the most important grant so far. There, the state of Wisconsin asks us to review a three-judge federal district court injunction of Wisconsin's redistricting plan as an impermissible, partisan gerrymander. So far the court has held race-based gerrymanders unconstitutional, but has not found a manageable, reliable measure of fairness for determining whether a partisan gerrymander violates the Constitution. In three consolidated cases we will consider employment contracts purporting to relinquish in favor of binding individual arbitration the right to pursue class or collective litigation. Such employer-dictated contracts, employees urge, violate the National Labor Relations Act right to collectively bargain. Initially, the government supported the employees, but recently it has switched sides and now, relying on the Federal Arbitration Act, the government supports the employer’s position. The switch places the Solicitor General at odds with the position taken by the National Labor Relations Board petitioner in one of the cases, and formerly represented by the Solicitor General. The acting Solicitor General has given the National Labor Relations Board permission to brief and argue its own view. Finally, on June 1st, the government filed a petition seeking review of the Fourth Circuit's decision halting the president's so-called travel ban. That decision affirms an injunction against implementation of the executive order limiting travel to the United States by persons from six predominantly Muslim countries. The government also filed an application requesting a stay of the Fourth Circuit's injunction, pending our review, as well as a stay of another injunction of the same executive order from the district court in Hawaii. After the Ninth Circuit upheld the Hawaii district court’s injunction, the government asked us to treat that stay application as a petition for review from the Ninth Circuit's decision. The court granted the petitions for review, consolidated the cases for argument early next term, and stayed the injunction in part. Foreign nationals with a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States continues to be sheltered by the Fourth and Ninth Circuit injunction. And just this week, we clarified that closely related persons include grandparents. A relationship is bona fide if it is a close familial relationship. And we decided that the government had been too restricted in what family relationships qualified as close. The court also said two that other people who could not be brought under the ban include students admitted to a U.S. university, a worker who has accepted employment from a U.S. company, and a lecturer invited to address a U.S. audience. As to those individuals, the executive order may not be enforced pending our decision in the cases we will hear in October. One can safely predict, I think, that next term will be a momentous one. [LAUGHTER] [APPLAUSE] Okay now we— Well, thank you, Justice. And you can ask me about anything I just said if you thought it wasn't sufficiently clear. Well, I thought everything you said was clear, I thought the last portion was unfair because I am now dying to ask you questions about pending cases. And I'm not going to do that. We'll just have to wait and see. I was reflecting as you were speaking, we've done this five years now, and I'm wondering how proud of me you must be that every time we get together there all these people coming to see me. [LAUGHTER] It's a—yeah, well, thank you. Yes, I know three very special people sitting in the first row. That’s right. That’s right. So let me ask you a little bit about last term. I think it was an unusual term in the sheer level of consensus. Yeah. There are various ways of measuring consensus or divisiveness among the justices, and this last term was quite a you didn’t always speak with one voice, but you spoke with one voice or, for the most part one voice, more often than you usually do. And I'm wondering, to what extent do you think that's a reflection of an eight-justice court for most of the term, or to what extent do you think it's you and your colleagues working hard to do what the Chief Justice has said he really wants to accomplish which is greater consensus, deciding less if need be in order to achieve it. My answer would be both. Eight is not a good number for a collegial court. And we did try hard to avoid four-four splits. We were not totally successful, I mentioned two cases and have been set down for reargument next term, but I think that speaks rather well for the court that we were able to agree so much more often than we disagreed sharply. Why do you think eight is a bad number given the extent to which it actually creates a greater level of consensus that the chief, and I think some of your other colleagues, are trying to achieve. Because, obviously, four-four division is not good for the way the court should operate. It means we can't decide the case. When we divide four-four, the decision below is automatically affirmed, no opinion is written, and the automatic affirmance has no precedential value. Right. Yeah, so I think four-four is as if the court never got involved to begin with, I don't think anyone would recommend that. Yes. But given that eight-justice court puts pressure on you to work together to avoid a four-four, right, I think there are familiar problems with it. When you do split, you can't give as much guidance, right. But if you want more consensus, if you want more speaking as a court as opposed to five votes, is there— I guess another way of asking it is, if the level of consensus drops sharply next term and you have many more five-fours, are there costs associated with that? You're providing guidance bu— That remains to be seen, what will happen sure next year. Our unanimity rate is always considerably higher than our sharp disagreement rate. But last term, I think was outstanding in the level of agreement. Do you think it's important for the courts public legitimacy to avoid sharp splits with the regularity to achieve a significant measure of consensus? Well, that was the idea of the great Chief Justice Marshall. Marshall’s idea was that this should be an opinion for the court, it should be unanimous. And he was remarkably successful as chief. He participated in over 1,000 decisions. And of those, he wrote 500 himself. The rumor was, and in those days the court, what the members of the court did mostly was ride circuit. The country was divided up, and each justice had a responsibility for a circuit. They would shine along dusty roads and complete courts, complete trial courts in the various parts of the country. So they did that most of the time. And then they had a session in D.C., when they all lived together and one or another boarding house. According to the legend, the chief would take out a Madeira from his own personal supply, and they would all imbibe, and then he would say, “Let's talk about case so and so. You all agree with me, don't you?” [LAUGHTER] “And I will write the opinion.” As the boarding house style of living broke down, as one and then another justice decided, why should we put up with this bad food at the boarding house, we have families and we can live with our families. So you can see that the level of unanimity began to drop, and even the great Chief Justice, before the end of his term, wrote a few dissenting opinions. You should know that in most countries in the world, there is a judgment for the court and no dissenting opinions. France is typical of civil law, there will be a judgment, it comes out in a stylized form, the opinion author is not identified. I think our system is notable for its transparency. We don't pretend that the law is always clear and certain. Many times there’s a good argument to be made on both sides on what the law is. I remember once when I was on the Court of Appeals, we had some judges from France visiting. And they sat in an argument of a criminal case, I told them that I would send them the decision when it came out. I did. The decision was two-to-one for the government. And this French judge was appalled, he said, “A man is going to prison and you are acknowledging that there are different ways of interpreting the law.” That was his first reaction. And then he thought, and he said, “You must be very secure in your legal system if you are ready to broadcast to the public that this is an issue on which reasonable minds can disagree.” I would not like to operate in a system where I didn't have the prerogative to speak my own mind when I think the court got it wrong. I’m thinking that you just taught us another way of encouraging consensus, not just an eight-justice court, but you living with all of your colleagues in a boarding house with ample supplies of alcohol. [LAUGHTER] So I think you're speaking to this idea of reasonable disagreement about what the law is, about what a statute means, about what the Constitution means, and I think that's a consistent theme over the course of American history. I’m wondering how you balance this impulse, on the one hand, to be a member of a court, to be a good colleague, to try and help the chief achieve greater consensus when it's possible, on the one hand, and being true to yourself and your own view about what the law is on the other hand. I imagine there are times in which you get pulled in opposite directions. Could you describe your decision-making process in those situations? Well, sometimes it's not all that difficult. If it's a question of statutory interpretation, and there were reasonable arguments we made on both sides, and what the society needs is a rule of the road, you have to know what the law is and then they can conform their conduct to it. I would give an interpretation of an intricate provision of the Internal Revenue Code as a classic example of the kind of case where I will say even though I disagree, I will bury my dissent, we call that a graveyard dissent, and go along with the majority. But if it’s an important question, for example some of the decisions that I mentioned from this term, I will go my own way. I will never compromise when it's a question, of say freedom of speech, press, gender equality. Do you think you and your colleagues, I mean you must be aware of it, does it concern you at all in those high profile cases that people are focusing on, that you're not just giving voice transparently to reasonable disagreement, but there is not always, right. But often a a predictable lineup of four justices appointed by one party, four justices appointed by another party, and then one justice appointed by one of those parties tipping it one way or another. I mean I'm personally delighted by the reasonable disagreement when you have these unpredictable mixes of justices, and that happens more than people realize. But I do worry, I think we would agree that the court supposed to be doing something very different than what's going on in democratic politics. But it may not seem that way given the lineup of the justices in certain kinds of cases. Well, I wouldn't say it will inevitably divide on party lines. During my now 24 years at the court, the most, quote, liberal justices, were both Republican appointees. And Republicans registered Republicans themselves. John Paul Stevens and David Souter. Even more dramatically, if you think of the composition of the Warren court, Earl Warren himself was Governor of California, he was a prosecutor, he was a strict law and order man, he came to the Supreme Court and he took the court, first, in the direction of ending apartheid in America. And then in recognizing the rights of defendants in the criminal justice system. Another Republican appointee by the same president, President Eisenhower, was William Brennan, also considered a leading, quote, liberal judge. So it doesn't always come out the way the president expects it to come out. I’m quite sure that President Eisenhower was surprised by Chief Justice Warren and justice Brennan. Yeah, I’m sorry to be a downer, but as you were speaking I'm wondering when if ever we’re likely to see that again because we've gone from a time in which we didn't have ideological parties, you had liberal and conservative wings of both parties, to a time in which the country is increasingly polarized and the parties are more disciplined an ideological, at least with respect to judicial appointments. And so that’s— Well, that’s a relatively new phenomenon. And Neil, if you will think back to 1993 when I was nominated, and the next year, 1994 when Justice Breyer was nominated, the vote in my favor was 96 to 3, although I had spent 10 years of my life litigating cases under the auspices of the American Civil Liberty Union, not a single senator raised a question about that. Or, go back further to the ‘80s when Justice Scalia was nominated, a certainly known quantity, everybody knew about his textualist approach, the vote in his favor was 100%. Not a single negative vote. And that wasn't all that long ago. And my hope is we will get back to those not so long ago days. I don't know what it will take. I think we need people who care about our country on both sides of the aisle to say, “Let's go back to when our Congress was functional.” Are there ways in which the court as an institution or individual justices have a role to play in getting our country back, that maybe we've lost our way and we need to find our way back? So something that comes to mind is the friendship that you and Justice Scalia nurtured for decades. Might we be better off as a country if there were more such friendships? Well certainly, I think so, and there once were in Congress. Senators of different parties were very close. But my affection for Justice Scalia was not at all unusual to me, it was to some other people. But I had come from thirteen years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, with a chief judge, Skelly Wright, who could not be appointed to Fifth Circuit because senator Eastland was block the way. Skelly Wright had been a district judge in New Orleans, and when there was a massive resistance to desegregation, every time the state legislature or the governor came up with some new way to block school desegregation or integration public transportation, he struck it down. When he came to the D.C. Circuit, he and Judge Tam had a great friendship. And those two were so close, and they even went shopping for clothes together. [LAUGHTER] So that affinity is not dependent on the party that you registered in. It is the way it should be. It’s the way institutions can work productively. So I hope that in my lifetime I will see a return to the way it was in Clinton's first term. I’m taking note of the list for compiling, right, so we’ve got the eight-justice court, the living together, the alcohol, and now shopping for clothes. [LAUGHTER] I think we're making real progress. Do you think there’s anything— I have to say a footnote about drinking together. [LAUGHTER] So for a long time, before the State of the Union message, the justices with would have dinner in the justices dining room, and Justice Kennedy would bring in an excellent California wine. And every year I would say to myself, “Don't drink.” [LAUGHTER] But it was just too good to pass up. So then I would listen to the State of the Union message and stay awake for about 20 minutes, and then— [LAUGHTER] —down my head. So I had Justice Souter on one side and Justice Thomas on the other who was supposed to pinch me if they—it didn’t always work. [LAUGHTER] So there are different ways scholars think about the court over time. One model is the court getting better and better over time and executing its responsibilities, and I'm talking about the longer view of history. And another model is actually like life for most people, there are some significant ups and downs. Given your almost quarter century experience on the court, which model of perspective seems right to you, that a court is is striving, and seeking, and doing better at fulfilling its function in the constitutional scheme, or a court that is sometimes doing better and sometimes doing significantly worse? Yes. Well, Supreme Court has definitely had a checkered history in that respect. Think of the Dred Scott decision that hastened the Civil War. When the Chief Justice wrote an opinion saying no person who came to these shores from Africa in chains, and no descendent of such a person, will ever be a citizen of the United States. That was about rock bottom. Or, then think later in the separate but equal doctrine. Or around the time of World War I when people who were opposed to war were arrested, people who didn't speak the way the government thought people should speak. And there were two great dissenters in those days, Holmes and Brandeis. Or the New Deal court, what did they call them, the nine old men, who were declaring unconstitutional state and federal social and economic legislation to the great consternation of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was so mad he decided to try to pack the court. And that was unsuccessful. But the proposal was for every justice who remains in office after attaining age 70, the president could appoint an additional justice. And if that plan had prevailed, then the number of justices would have swelled immediately from 9 to 15. But cooler heads prevailed. and that plan was defeated. And what about during your tenure since the early 1990s, 1993. Are there any generalizations that come to mind of a court that’s doing better by your lights, or a court that’s had its ups and downs? Well, I would say the biggest change in the time I've been on the court has been the loss of Justice O'Connor. When I look back to the term when she left us, at the decisions that came out 5-4 when I was one of the 4, I can say with some degree of confidence that I would have been among the 5. And Justice O'Connor is another example. She was a registered Republican, certainly. A big supporter of the Arizona Republican Party. She was Speaker of the Arizona Senate. And she was a person who took very seriously her responsibility to take each case and give it her best opinion. I think this was before I was on the court, but how the first time Roe v. Wade was up for a really serious challenge, there were three justices who prevented that from happening. Justice O'Connor, Justice Kennedy, and Justice Souter. Do you think the court would be better off with some justices with the breadth of experience of a Justice O'Connor, or you mentioned earlier an Earl Warren, people who had been involved in political life and governance as opposed to appellate judges or federal appellate judges? The court is always richer I think with a diversity of its members. But I wouldn't want to have a fixed quota, that so many have to have had political experience, some many have to be appellate judges. There was one time, not so long ago, a complaint that there were too many former law professors on the court. [LAUGHTER] That's outrageous. [LAUGHTER] So it's easy to get behind the court when you agree with its decisions, but there have been times, historically, sometimes it's liberals, sometimes it's conservatives, when Americans feel that the court is really headed in the wrong direction, not just in this particular case or that particular area of law, but really as a general matter. And I'm wondering what advice you would have for lawyers, for engaged citizens when that fear or that concern arises, that in a deep sense this court no longer speaks for me or speaks for my vision or understanding of the law? Well, one thing judges can't defend themselves. And people ask me about a certain opinion that they disagree with, all I can say is, well, read the opinion, it sets out my reasoning. We do look to the academy to help the public understand decisions. In my lifetime I can remember most vividly the impeach Earl Warren signs. I think today no one would disagree that it was time to end apartheid. Forced separation of the races by the state, Earl Warren did that and some people might not have liked it at the time. The same thing with some criminal justice decisions that were initially severely criticized like Miranda. But now I think the police are well adjusted to that decision, and nobody thinks that it's wrong to tell a defendant, to tell someone who has been apprehended, you have a right to remain silent. If you speak what you say can be used against you. You have a right to counsel. And if you can't afford a lawyer, the government must provide one for you. Those are rights people have. Why shouldn't they be told that they have those rights? So those once controversial decisions, I don't think are controversial anymore. So sometimes criticism, very strong criticism of the court, at least the judgment of history has turned out to have been wrong. Other times, in some of the cases you mentioned earlier, it turns out to have been right, the court got it wrong. But it sounds like what you're suggesting is that there's a difference between strong criticism of the court you disagree with, and court respecting ways, and strong criticism in court disrespecting ways. And what I worry about are our efforts to fundamentally delegitimate, it could be the Supreme Court, it could be the courts more generally. But I think there's a real difficult question of judgment when you see the court heading in a certain direction and you don't want to give up on the idea of courts or judicial review, but you also don't want to remain silent, you want to speak out. I think if you took a poll today of the three branches of government and which one do the people think is doing the best job, [LAUGHTER] [APPLAUSE] —we'd be way out in front of Congress. [LAUGHTER] This is a lesson in life. There are advantages to extraordinarily low standards. [LAUGHTER] If you don't mind my switching gears a bit and talk about you and your legacy. So a lot of young people know about you. There are two young people here this evening who know you, my children, my daughters, Sydney and Dylan, who know you well. What would you most like young people to know about your life's work? If there's one thing they could take away, what would it be? About my life's work? Yes. It could be as an advocate before you became a judge, as a judge and then a justice. Well, I have tried my best with whatever limited talent I have to help move society in a direction that I think is healthy for people. My first exposure was as a college student in heyday of Senator Joe McCarthy from Wisconsin. There was he huge Red Scare in the country. And this is a senator who saw a communist in every corner and was hauling people before the Senate investigating committee, the house on American Activities Committee, and drilling them about some organization they had joined in the depths of the depression. Then I had a professor of constitutional law who pointed out to me that they were lawyers standing up for these people and reminding our Congress that our Constitution guarantees our right to think, speak, and write as we believe, and not as a big brother government tells us is the right way to think, speak, and write. And that we have a Fifth Amendment that protects people against self-incrimination. So I thought that was a pretty nifty thing that a lawyer could make a living, and yet do good for the society in which he lives. Little did I know at the time at women were not wanted by the law in those now ancient days. This was at your experience at Cornell with a constitutional law professor? Yes. And had seen teachers who were much admired leave the classroom. There was one case of a professor of zoology who was loved by his students, he was removed from teaching because he had belonged to some socialist youth group in the 1930s. Do you think it's a good time to go to law school now? I’m biased and prejudice on that subject. That’s okay. I think it’s a great time. My granddaughter just graduated from law school. Is it just because every time is a great time, or is it just— It wasn’t such a great time when I decided to be a lawyer. If truth be told, my family thought it was a totally impractical idea because women couldn't earn a living as lawyers. They could as teachers, so I should be a high school history teacher. Marrying Marty changed their attitude entirely. Then their attitude was, well, if Ruth wants to go to law school, it's okay because if she can't get a job she will have a man to support her. So we've talked in the past about that your parents and particularly the influence your mother had on you. I’m wondering today about Marty. Today is 21 years to the day that Maria and I met. And I'm wondering if you could tell us about your relationship with Marty, what you learned from Marty, how he supported you. It was a very powerful dedication to him that you gave in your recent book. He was my best friend in all things. He was an unusual man for his time. I’ve said many more times than once, that when I met him, he was 18, I was 17, he was the first boy I ever had a relationship with who cared that I had a brain. So for our first couple of years we were just best friends. And then it came to me this he was ever so much smarter than the other boys I knew. He always made me feel that I was better than I thought I was. This was a man who had such total confidence in his own candlepower, that far from regarding me as any kind of a threat, his attitude was, “I want to just spend my life with her, so she's got to be somebody special.” He was also a great chef. [LAUGHTER] Now we're getting down to the nitty-gritty. Well, he he attributed his skill in the kitchen to two women, his mother and his wife. He was right about his wife, but I think his mother was much better than he gave her credit with her being. Do you have any advice for people thinking about going to law school, or law students entering the profession? Is there something that non-lawyers often misunderstand about law or the role of courts that you think it would be good to have their eyes open about? Well, what I would say to young people starting out in the law is always, whatever your occupation, try to do something outside yourself. Whatever cause it is that you care deeply about, whether it's the environment, or ending the racial discrimination that's still with us, or gender discrimination, whatever it is, I’m pleased to see that my law clerks who are now leaving are all looking for law firms that have a significant pro bono practice. Some of them need to get a good paying job to pay off their student loans, but they want to be someplace that will allow them to do work for the good of the public. And is that just because it’ll help others over the long run or because it'll help themselves fashion a fulfilling career? Yes. In the days before I was a judge I got the greatest satisfaction from doing things I was not paid to do, like starting the ACLU’s women's rights project. Then you feel like you were true professional if you do something not just for yourself, not just to turn over a buck, but to make things a little better for people who don't share your good fortune. Do you have any role models in mind, either that motivated you or could motivate young lawyers, or on the other hand, any cautionary tales because there are some people who are really living a rich, deep life in the law, and then there are a lot of unhappy lawyers. And I hope I'm sending my students off to be living fulfilling lives and getting very well paid, but being very unhappy. So who comes to mind is either a role model or a cautionary tale that law students or young lawyers might keep in mind as they think about who they want to emulate or not emulate? When I was growing up I had two models, one fictional, one real. The fictional was Nancy Drew. [LAUGHTER] And the real one was Amelia Earhart. There really were no women in the law at that time. And how about legal legal role models? A Thurgood Marshall, a Charles Hamilton Houston?Going back in time, the Holmes and Brandeis dissents, Marshall, he set the pattern for what we tried to do. That is he didn't attempt to get the Supreme Court to say separate but equal is inevitably unequal the first time. He had building blocks leading to Brown v. Board. He turned away many cases where an injustice had been done. One is a case of woman who, if I had known about her would have been my role model, was Pauli Murray from North Carolina. She was not admitted to graduate studies at the University of North Carolina because she was not white. And she was more than a little distraught. So she wrote a letter to President Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, that said, “You just spoke at Chapel Hill.” “This is a school that refuses to admit me. How could you as President of the United States speak at a school that excludes people solely on the basis of their race?” Well, Eleanor Roosevelt got a copy of that letter and that began a great friendship between Pauli and Eleanor Roosevelt. There is a wonderful book telling about that friendship called The Firebrand and the First Lady. Pauli Murray and Eleanor Roosevelt. Didn't Pauli Murray have a deep influence on your own work? I think of what you did in that ‘70s litigation as in substantial part translating into legal terms her key insight about the ways in which race discrimination and sex discrimination are similar, that they rest on stereotypes that destroy individuality and reinforce the inferior status of historically excluded groups. She wrote in the 1960s an article together with another woman called “Jane Crow and the Law,” where she pointed out that our statute books were just riddled with distinctions based on gender, the underlying notion being that men are the breadwinners and women are the people who take care of the home and children. And so the statutes ranked people that way. Some young people today are surprised to know that for a good part of my life women weren't called to serve on a jury. And that persisted into the ‘70s. In fact, the liberal Warren court decided in 1961 that it was okay to exempt women from jury duty. And that was an example of a law that some people regarded as pure favor to women, and others saw as a way of saying that jury duty is a responsibility and obligation of citizens, so men, like it or not, have to serve, but women are expendable We don't really need them to be part of the administration of justice. Well, we're almost out of time, but I would remiss if I didn't ask you about your notorious workouts. So how are they going? How many pushups are we talking about? Well, still 20. Still 20. With a break after ten to breathe deeply. And now we have planks added to that. Have you gotten any of your colleagues on board? Yes, two. My trainer is now shared Justice Kagan and Justice Breyer. [LAUGHTER] And why only— This book will be out in October. [LAUGHTER] I just finished writing the introduction. Okay. And what about the rest of your colleagues, not so much with the planks and the pushups? You could get a gym membership together. Well, we do have a gym reserved for the justices that most of my colleagues use now and then. [LAUGHTER] Well, there might be another way to consider of resolving disagreements is meeting in the gym together. I don't want to take any more of your time. I do want to thank you for being with us this evening for the fifth year in a row. It's the highlight of this summer program for our students as well as for the Duke community in D.C. So please join me in thanking Justice Ginsburg. [APPLAUSE] Thank you. Thank you.


  1. ^ Supreme Court Judges – – Retrieved November 5, 2007 Archived February 4, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Chillicothe Constitution Tribune Archives, Jun 7, 1952, p. 6". 7 June 1952. Retrieved 8 May 2020.
  • Official Manual, State of Missouri, 2005-2006. Jefferson City, MO:Secretary of State.
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