After adding four new justices in five years, the court is stable with no retirements announced or rumored. The oldest justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 78, a cancer survivor, recently slid down the escape chute of an airplane after the pilot detected engine problems; she made a speech the next day.
Ginsburg is far and away the wealthiest justice with assets of $10.7 million to $45.4 million, in 2009, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which has analyzed the justices' financial disclosure reports. Like other public officials, justices report their assets in ranges.
Ginsburg, who launched the ACLU's Women's Rights Project in 1971 and served as general counsel of the ACLU, is a leading liberal on the court. She was confirmed in 1993, though in a recent speech at Southern Methodist University, she said she doubts she could be confirmed today, given the fierce partisanship in Washington and glare of media scrutiny.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer, 73, was a Watergate prosecutor in 1973, and in 1994 became President Bill Clinton's nominee to the court. Breyer wrote Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge's View in 2010 because "I believe it important for those who are not lawyers to understand what the Court does and how it works." An architectural buff, Breyer also wrote the foreword for Celebrating the Courthouse: A Guide for Architects, Their Clients, and the Public. Last month, he was named a judge for the Pritzker Prize, the top award in architecture.
Justice Antonin Scalia, 75, who celebrated his 25th anniversary on the court Sept. 26, has served longest, is among the most conservative and has another distinction. Nominated by Ronald Reagan, Scalia was confirmed unanimously by the Senate.
"I don't care if you were Solomon himself, you wouldn't be confirmed unanimously these days," because of the bitter partisanship on Capitol Hill, said Brian T. Fitzpatrick, a law professor at Vanderbilt University, who clerked for Scalia.
Clarence Thomas, a reliable conservative during his 20 years on the court, is known for his silence. Thomas has not asked a single question during oral argument in more than five years. He's outgoing and loquacious in public events, however, complaining recently that Congress and the White House leave too many hard decisions to the Supreme Court.
"Our role is too great. I don't know any more about these big moral questions" than other people do, Thomas said in Lincoln, Neb.
Thomas, 63, of Pin Point, Ga., the only black justice, also objects to the court's Northeastern tilt.
"There's nobody from the heartland," Thomas said in Lincoln, suggesting it would do the court good to sit in session outside Washington, D.C., occasionally.
Next: The swing vote. >>