Can Anyone Become a Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court?

The Supreme Court was established by Article Three of the United States Constitution, which came into force in 1789. But nothing in the Constitution specifies what qualifications a justice must have. There are no limitations as to age, level of education, or whether a nominee must be a natural-born citizen. A Supreme Court justice doesn’t even need a law degree, although the Senate confirmation process these days might quickly exclude such a nominee. In short, the president of the United States can nominate anyone to serve on the Supreme Court -- having them approved by the Senate is another matter.

No experience necessary:

  • There have been six justices on the Supreme Court who were born outside the United States. The most recent was Austrian-born Felix Frankfurter, who served on the court from 1939 to 1962.

  • The youngest justice ever appointed was Joseph Story. He was 32 years old when he joined the court in 1812. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and John Paul Stevens were both 90 years old when they retired in 1932 and 2010, respectively.

  • James F. Byrnes dropped out of school at age 14 to work as a law clerk in Charleston, South Carolina. He taught himself law and passed the bar exam at 23. Franklin D. Roosevelt nominated Byrnes to the Supreme Court in 1941, and he was quickly confirmed.

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