The current US Supreme Court justices' average age might surprise you

Bruno Cooke January 27, 2022
The current US Supreme Court justices' average age might surprise you
Photo by Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images


Stephen Breyer will retire later this year after nearly three decades as a US Supreme Court justice. He is currently the oldest justice on the bench, but what are the ages of his fellow Supreme Court justices?

Current age of each US Supreme Court justice

Stephen Breyer is the oldest sitting justice of the Supreme Court, at the age of 83. When he started, he was 55; he has served for over 27 years.

Clarence Thomas is the next oldest – despite having been a US Supreme Court justice for three years longer than Breyer. Thomas is 73 years old and will turn 74 on 23 June.

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Sam Alito is two years younger, at 71; Sonia Sotomayor and John Roberts are both 67, although Roberts has been a justice for four years longer than Sotomayor.

Next are Elena Kagan (61), Brett Kavanaugh (56) and Neil Gorsuch (54). The youngest Supreme Court justice is Amy Coney Barrett, whose age was 48 at the time of appointment. The average age of a SCOTUS is therefore 64 and a half. But, depending on who replaces Stephen Breyer, that could drop by a few years.

Youngest Supreme Court justice in US history

His name was Joseph Story. He joined the court in 1811 after a nomination from President James Madison and served until he died in 1845.

Joseph Story was 32 years old when commissioned to the court, making him the youngest ever Supreme Court justice in US history. He was an associate justice and served for over 33 years.

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Next is William Johnson, who was an associate judge for the state of South Carolina. He was 33 when Thomas Jefferson appointed him.

By a small margin, the oldest ever sitting US Supreme Court justice was Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr, who served from 1841 to 1935. He was 90 years old (not far off 91) when he retired.

How old do you have to be to be a Supreme Court justice?

According to the SCOTUS website, there is no specific age qualification to become a Supreme Court justice.

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Likewise for education, profession and native-born citizenship. Many 18th and 19th century justices simply studied law under a mentor, as there weren’t many law schools in the country.

The last Supreme Court justice who didn’t go to law school was James F Byrnes. He didn’t graduate from high school, taught himself law, and passed the bar at age 23.

“A Justice does not have to be a lawyer or a law school graduate, but all Justices have been trained in the law.”

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Bruno Cooke has been a freelance journalist since 2019, primarily with GRV Media. He was an early contributor to The Focus, and has written for HITC, Groundviews and the Sheffield University newspaper – he earned his MA in Global Journalism there in 2021. He’s the Spoken Word Poetry Editor for The Friday Poem, and self-published his debut novel Reveries in 2019, which his mum called both a “fine read” and “excellent Christmas present”. Bruno has lived in China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines and likes, among other things: bicycle touring, black and white Japanese films, pub quizzes, fermentation and baklava. In 2023, Bruno will set off with his partner on a round-the-world cycle.