So, it’s officially official: This morning, Neil Gorsuch became the 113th Justice to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. In all of the discussions of his possible immediate impact on the Court, it is sometimes forgotten that, having ascended to the top of his profession at the relatively tender age of 49, Gorsuch is also likely to be a Justice for a long, long time.
If, for example, he stays in place until he is at the current age (84) of fellow Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, he will be there until at least 2052. In the political equivalent of dog years, that would stretch over ten presidential terms. It would also put Gorsuch within striking distance of what is now the longest SCOTUS tenure ever: that of William O. Douglas (over 36 years). But with the trend favoring younger and younger appointees who live longer and longer, Douglas’s record may not last that long anyway. Sixty-eight-year-old Clarence Thomas has already been on the Court for a quarter century, and if he stays on into his 80s, he’ll become the longest-serving Justice in 2029. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Elena Kagan, both of whom joined the Court at the age of 50, could easily serve for three decades.
You never know what will happen in this mortal coil, but when the current batch of oldsters on the Court (84-year-old Ginsburg, 80-year-old Anthony Kennedy, and 78-year-old Stephen Breyer) move on, we could see a very stable SCOTUS for a good while. That is one of many reasons that the presidential election of 2020 could be an even bigger deal than that of 2016. The odds are pretty good that whoever wins four years after that — meaning, in the election of 2024 — could become the first president since Jimmy Carter to come and go without a single Supreme Court nomination.