The Supreme Court is an extremely interesting and sometimes elusive entity within our federal government. Supreme Court justice is one of the few positions that do not have a term limit, and the Court is also one of three federal government bodies or branches that compose the major checks and balances system. And while the Supreme Court may seem like the least publicized and most out-of-touch with the public branch of government, here are some neat and interesting facts about the Supreme Court, past and present.
The oldest and youngest justices
Most people believe that justices on the Supreme Court bench are ancient, and while it’s true that most justices serve well into their 70s, 80s, and even 90s, the youngest justice to be appointed to the bench was Joseph Story. In November of 1811, Joseph Story, 32, was appointed by President James Madison. Today he is still the youngest judge to ever be appointed to the Supreme Court. On the opposite side, the oldest judge to ever be appointed was Horace Lurton, who was 65 years old when President Taft appointed him in 1909.
What does a chief justice do?
The chief justice of the Supreme Court holds the highest judicial seat in the country, but with such a large title many people wonder what exactly a chief justice does. Firstly, the chief justice of the Supreme Court acts like any other associate justice, except with a few more important duties. The chief justice presides over any presidential impeachment trial. He or she also organizes the weekly schedule, which includes going over the petitions for cases and ultimately deciding whether the Court will officially accept and decide on a specific case. Additionally, the chief justice administers the oath of office during the presidential inauguration.
Salaries: Then and now
Since they hold such high public seats, many of us are curious about how much Supreme Court justices make. Well, back in 1789, justices were making about $4,000 (adjusted for inflation). Today, the salary of an associate justice is around $210,000.
What about the wigs?
Whenever we think about British judges, we immediately think powder-white wigs. Well, apparently this tradition just didn’t catch on in the U.S. (not to mention, we may have been a little trigger-happy about getting rid of British traditions after the Revolutionary War!). After only one associate justice showed up wearing a white wig to a court meeting in 1790, President Thomas Jefferson quickly convinced him to ditch the wig, as it was reminiscent of the former oppressive British rule.
The formal hand-shaking
As a final tidbit about the Supreme Court, the first thing justices do before any meeting is shake each other’s hands. The tradition was started in the late-1800s by Chief Justice Melville W. Fuller. His reason for the hand shakes was that although they may have differing opinions regarding a case, the justices are there for a common purpose: to serve and better the United States and its people.
“U.S. Supreme Court information: Basic Facts and History.” Essortment. www.essortment.com/all/supremecourthi_rljv.htm
“Supreme Court Facts.” History.com. www.history.com/topics/supreme-court-facts
“Supreme Court Facts.” Info Please. www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0875894.html