Supreme Court Who’s Who and How They Got There

A look at who currently sits on high court and the votes that confirmed them

U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington on Thursday, April 12, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Supreme Court is in the spotlight this week after it announced decisions on three hot-button issues and an upcoming vacancy, all before the end of its last day Wednesday. After the court upheld the travel ban and delivered a blow to labor unions and abortion rights advocates, Justice Anthony Kennedy announced he would be retiring in July.

Here’s a refresher on the makeup of the court and the votes that confirmed each sitting justice:

Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy

(CQ Roll Call file photo)
(CQ Roll Call file photo)

Kennedy, 81, joined the court in 1988 after receiving an appointment from President Reagan. He earned unanimous approval despite a Democratic majority in the Senate. Kennedy had been working for the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, a position for which he also received unanimous approval after nomination by President Ford.

Chief Justice John Roberts

(CQ file photo)
(CQ file Roll Call photo)

Roberts, 63,  took his seat in 2005 after nomination by President George W. Bush with 78-22 approval of a Republican majority in the Senate. He had been working as a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. He was initially nominated to succeed retiring Sandra Day O’Connor as an associate justice. In the process, Chief Justice William Rehnquist passed away and Bush nominated Roberts to instead fill the chief justice position.

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas

(CQ Roll Call file photo)
(CQ Roll Call file photo)

Thomas, 70, received his nomination in 1991 from President George H.W. Bush. At the time Democrats held the majority in the Senate and Thomas squeaked by with a 52-48 confirmation vote. There had been little opposition to his nomination until Anita Hill testified that Thomas had sexually harassed her while he was her supervisor at the Department of Education. Thomas had been working for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, a position to which he had also been nominated by Bush the year before. Thomas succeeded Thurgood Marshall and was the second African American to sit on the court.

Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg

(Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call)
(Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call)

Ginsberg, 85, joined the court in 1993 after receiving the nomination from President Clinton. Democrats held the majority in the Senate which approved her nomination 96-3. The votes against her came from three conservative Republicans: Jesse Helms of North Carolina, Don Nickles of Oklahoma and Robert C. Smith of New Hampshire. Ginsberg, the second female to serve as an associate justice, had been working for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. She filled a seat vacated by Byron White.

Associate Justice Stephen Breyer


UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 05: Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Hart Building entitled "Considering the Role of Judges Under the Constitution of the United States." Justice Antonin Scalia also testified. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call)
 (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call)


Breyer, 79, also received a nomination from Clinton in 1994 and gained an 87-9 confirmation vote approval from the Democratic majority Senate. Before this appointment, Breyer had been working at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Breyer took the place of retiring Justice Harry Blackmun.

Associate Justice Samuel Alito

(CQ Roll Call file photo)
(CQ Roll Call file photo)

Alito, 68, joined the court in 2006 after receiving a nomination from President George W. Bush. He received a 58-42 confirmation vote from the Republican majority Senate. Alito had been working for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. He took his seat following the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Associate Justice Sonya Sotomayor

(CQ Roll Call file photo)
(CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sotomayor, 64, received the nod from President Barack Obama in 2009 while Democrats had control of the Senate. The chamber approved her nomination 68-31. She had been working since 1992 for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, a position to which Clinton had nominated her amid a Republican-controlled Senate, which slowed the process. Sotomayor replaced retiring Justice David Souter.

Associate Justice Elena Kagan

(CQ Roll Call file photo)
(CQ Roll Call file photo)

Kagan, 58, received a nomination in 2010 from President Obama while Democrats still held the majority in the Senate. They approved her nomination 63-37. Kagan had been working as the first female Solicitor General to the United States. She replaced retiring Justice John Stevens.

Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch

UNITED STATES - MARCH 21: Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch testifies on the second day of his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Hart Building, March 21, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump called on Gorsuch, 50, in 2017 following a year-long vacancy after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Republicans had the Senate majority, approving Gorsuch 55-45. He had been serving as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th circuit, to which President Bush had nominated him in 2006.

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