Presidential Luck in Supreme Court Nominations

by Jonathan Hobratsch

The following is quasi-scientific and quasi-arbitrary metric for judging historical presidential luck in Supreme Court nominations. I have created a system to attribute points or negative points to each justice nominated in US history. Just below, you will see my point system. Obviously, active and pending judges can still alter the cumulative points of the president who appointed them to the Supreme Court. I should note that I do not evaluate the competency of the judges in this ranking, since that would make the ranking system all-too-personal to my ideological beliefs.
+10 for Chief Justice

+5 for Assoc Justice
+x for years past presidency
-x for years within presidency
-1 if nominee declines
-3 for withdrawn
-3 if Chief Justice nominee declines or confirmation postponed permantely
-5 for rejection, etc.
-5 for Chief justice withdrawn
-10 for impeachment or other forced resignation
McLean 29
Baldwin 12
Wayne 35
Taney 34
Barbour 8
Catron 33
Smith -1
Total 154
[Congress increased the number of SC to nine, allowing Jackson two extra appointments. Taney was originally “Merrick-Garlanded” by the Whigs, when Jackson nominated him as an associate judge after the Whig-controlled congress rejected Taney as the Secretary of Treasury. When a Chief Justice spot opened, Jackson renominated Taney, who passed the vote under a new Congress. Taney is generally considered the worst Chief Justice in US History, partially for his notorious Dred Scott decision. William Smith declined a seat after confirmation. John McLean, although appointed by Jackson, was a Whig (later Republican) and was a candidate for the presidency in 1848, 1856, 1860.]
Black 31
Reed 16
Frankfurter 22
Douglas 35
Murphy 9
Stone 11
Byrnes 2
Jackson 14
Rutledge 9
Total 149
[While FDR was easily able to confirm his many nominee, he did have some judicial struggles. For one, he attempted to increase the number of judges, allowing him to appoint many more justices favorable to him, but this failed. FDR eventually took Byrnes off the bench by making him Director of Economic Stabilization. Byrnes would also become Truman’s Sec of State, and governor of South Carolina. Chief Justice Stone was originally a Coolidge appointee that FDR elevated.]
Swayne 20
Miller 30
Davis 16
Field 37
Chase 18
Total 121
[Lincoln had a fairly easy time with his nominations. Davis would served for about a decade before taking a seat in the US Senate. Chief Justice Chase was a major political rival, who would run for president while serving as Chief Justice.]
O’Conner 22
Rhenquist 26
Scalia 32
Kennedy 33 *still serving*
Bork -5
Ginsburg -3
Total 102
[Despite some setbacks, Reagan had a pretty successful impact on the court. Rhenquist was a Nixon appointee that was elevated to the Chief Justice position. O’Conner was the first woman justice in court history. Scalia is considered a right-wing icon–a sort of Reagan of the court. Anthony Kennedy, who still serves today, has been arguably one of the most influential swing judges in US history. Bork was considered too extreme by Democrats, and an effort led by Ted Kennedy led to his rejection in the senate, and the eventual appointment of the moderate Anthony Kennedy. Ginsburg was withdrawn when he admitted to having smoked marijuana in the past.]
Warren 18
Harlan 12
Brennan 34
Whittaker 6
Stewart 25
Total 95
[Warren was a popular progressive Republican from California. John Marshall Harlan II, was the grandson of the first person of that name, an associate judge for President Hayes. The Senate initially refused to hear Harlan, but after becoming the first justice to face a judiciary committee, he was confirmed. This started the precedence used by every justice since.]
Burger 22
Blackmun 25
Powell 18
Rehnquist 36
Haynsworth -5
Carswell -5
Total 91
[Nixon had two SC rejections in Haynsworth and Carswell. The latter had been a white supremacist with a 58% reversal rate on his decisions while serving on lower level courts. Rehnquist would later be elevated to Chief Justice by Ronald Reagan.]
Lurton 6
Hughes 9
White 18
Devanter 29
Lamar 8
Pitney 14
Total 84
[Taft managed to appoint six justices in a single term, averaging more than one a year. Joseph Lamar was the cousin of Lucius Lamar, an associate justice nominated by Cleveland. Charles Evans Hughes resigned to run for president in 1916, narrowly losing to Woodrow Wilson. He would later return to the court, ironically succeeding Taft as Chief Justice.]
J Adams
Washington 33
Moore 8
Marshall 44
Jay -3
Total 82
[Adams nominated the two first long-term justices, including Chief Justice John Marshall, “The Father of American Constitutional Law.” He had originally nominated former Chief Justice John Jay to serve in that role again, but he declined after nomination. Bushrod Washington was the nephew of George Washington. Moore is often considered a weak selection, since he lacked experience and the knowledge necessary to be an effective Supreme Court judge.]
Jackson 30
Livingston  18
Todd  21
Total 69
[Congress raised the number of SC to seven, allowing Jefferson to nominate Todd to fill the new spot. Jefferson was the first president to not have a nominee rejected, decline, or withdrawn. Todd is often considered one of the most insignificant justices for infrequent activity and only one minor dissent.]
Jay 9
Rutledge -1
Cushing 18
Wilson 6
Blair 3
Iredell 6
Johnson 1
Paterson 11
Chase -1
Oliver Ellsworth 13
Total 65
[Washington had a hard time getting justices to serve and stay on the court. He also had the first Chief Justice rejection (Rutledge), first Chief Justice decline (Cushing), and the first nominated justice to get impeached (Chase). Rutledge served as Chief Justice before his rejection, since he was nominated during a recess appointment. Cushing was serving as an associate judge when he was asked to serve as Chief Justice. Chase was impeached during the Jefferson administration. Washington originally withdrew Paterson’s nomination, but then renominated him later in the same year. John Jay resigned from the Chief Justice spot to serve as governor of New York.]
Taft 16
Sutherland 19
Butler 17
Sanford 11
Total 63
[The US Senate initially refused to support Butler, who was both a Democrat and disliked by progressives, and as a Catholic, disliked by radicals in the South. In a second effort, Harding lucked out when the Senate allowed him through. Harding picked formed president Taft as Chief Justice, an office Taft always wanted.]
Brewer 22
Brown 18
Shiras 14
Jackson 7
Total 61
[Benjamin Harrison made all four confirmations quite easily. At one confirmation a year, Harrison had nearly the best luck of any president for nomination. Had he won reelection, it seems likely that he would have had two more confirmations to his name.]
McReynolds 24
Brandeis 22
Clarke 6
Total 52
[Brandeis is the first Jewish SC justice; although, Judah P. Benjamin was strongly considered by two presidents just prior to the Civil War.]
T Roosevelt
Holmes 27
Day 18
Moody 6
Total 51
[Teddy’s nominations were easily confirmed. Holmes remains as one of the most influential associate judges in SC history. Moody was one of TR’s old Harvard college buddies.]
GHW Bush
Souter 21
Thomas 29 *still serving*
Total 50
[Clarence Thomas is the second African-American in history to serve the court. He’s also the first African-American justice to give the oath of office on inauguration day–to VP Mike Pence. Thomas is criticized by some for keeping quiet in important cases, while the other justices are routinely asking questions.]
Gabriel Duvall (5+17) 22
Joseph Story (5+28) 33
Lincoln -1
Adams -1
Wolcott -5
Total 48
[Madison had a hard time filling seats. Lincoln, Wolcott, and future president John Quincy Adams were all New Englanders nominated before the eventual New Englander, Joseph Story, took the seat. Lincoln and Adams declined, and Wolcott was rejected by a resounding count 9-24. Duvall served long, but was basically useless, as he routinely allowed Chief Justice Marshall do all his thinking for him. Duvall was also so deaf that he had difficulty hearing cases. Story is generally considered one of the most influential member in court history.]
Burton 10
Vinson 10
Clark 19
Minton 8
Total 47
[Despite Truman’s growing unpopularity in office, he had no problem getting his justices confirmed. Chief Justice Vinson served at the top spot for only 7 years.]
Harlan 35
Woods 11
Matthews -3
Total 43
[The US Senate ignored the Matthews nomination, but the next president, Garfield, was able to push him through with a friendlier Senate, when he was confirmed by one vote.]
Ginsberg 21 *still serving*
Breyer 21 *still serving*
Total 42
[Both of Clinton’s appointments are still serving. Both, however, are nearly retirement. Ginsberg could be viewed as the liberal and progressive analogy to Scalia’s iconic status among conservatives. Both were close friends, despite their disagreements.]
Strong 8
Bradley 19
Hunt 9
Waite 21
Hoar -5
Williams -5
Cushing -5
Total 42
[Grant had a strong congress in his favor, but still had difficulty with appointments. Grant’s Attorney General, Hoar, was rejected for his belief in civil service reform–appointing people by merit, rather than party loyalty. Williams had been Grant’s Chief Justice , but a scandal caused Grant to withdraw the nomination. The senate would not confirm Cushing, another presumptive Chief Justice, because he opposed the Civil War and was a Democrat. Grant withdrew his nomination. Waite was, thus, Grant’s third choice as Chief Justice.]
White 34
Goldberg 6
Total 40
[White played football in the NFL. Goldberg served as a justice very briefly, since LBJ took him off the bench and made him the UN Ambassador.]
Van Buren
McKinley 16
Daniel 24
Total 40
[Van Buren was lucky with the relative longevity of his selections, a rare success of his presidency.]
Hughes 18
Roberts 17
Cardozo 10
Parker -5
Total 40
[Parker’s rejection was very narrow. Charles Evans Hughes had formally been an associate judge, and then a presidential nominee in 1916.]
Lamar 1
Fuller 13
White 22
R Peckham 17
Hornblower -8
W Peckham -5
Total 40
[Cleveland got two justices confirmed for each of his two non-consecutive terms. Hornblower was ignored by the US Senate, and when Cleveland nominated him again, the Senate rejected him. The two Peckham’s were brothers, and one was rejected and the other confirmed under a friendlier Senate.]
Stevens 38
Total 38
[In an otherwise mediocre presidency, his nomination of Stevens was a resounding success. He was unanimously confirmed, and ultimately became a liberal judge as his career progressed.]
Gray 22
Blatchford 13
Conkling -3
Total 32
[Conkling, Arthur’s old boss, was a controversial figure, opposed to a merit-based civil service reform. While confirmed, he opted not to serve.]
GW Bush
Roberts 15 *still serving as Chief Justice*
Alito 13 *still serving*
Miers -3
Total 28
[Roberts was initially an associate justice nominee, but he was withdrawn when a vacancy opened up with Rhenquist’s death. Roberts was renominated for the Chief Justice position and confirmed. Roberts gave the oath of office to the first African-American president (Obama), and to the first president without political or military experience (Trump–he did go to military boarding school, however). Like Roberts, Alito is still active on the court, and both are likely to stay for another decade at least. Harriet Miers was soundly rejected by a bipartisan Senate for having no experience as a judge, a  seeming relatively weak grasp of federal judicial matters, and for her close-personal ties to Bush.]
Woodward -5
Woodbury 7
Grier 25
Total 28
[Polk’s rejection of Woodward was a rare instance of Polk not getting what he wanted. One of those confirmed, Levi Woodbury, a former presidential candidate, had been a leading Northeastern politician. ]
McKenna 28
Total 28
[In an otherwise notable presidency, McKinley had only one appointment to the SC.
Fortas -10
Marshall 27
Thornberry -3
Total 14
[LBJ’s luck with the court was mixed. He managed to convince a JFK appointee to resign to become UN ambassador so he could fill the spot with Fortas, who was confirmed. However, the Senate filibustered when LBJ attempted to elevate Fortas to the SC. LBJ then withdrew the elevation. Not long after, Fortas was compelled to resign as associate judge after a scandal emerged that he had been accepting illegal money.  Thornberry was nominated to fill Fortas’s spot, but LBJ withdrew him. The one judicial success of this administration was Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American justice of the SC.]
Thompson 23
Total 23
[Monroe is the first president to nominate only one judge. Thompson Smith had been Monroe’s Sec of the Navy, and was running for president in 1824, shortly after his nomination as judge. He later attempted to run for governor of New York.]
Stone 22
Total 22
[Coolidge only had one nominee, but Stone would be elevated to the Chief Justice spot by FDR.]
Clifford 25
Black -5
Total 20
[The nomination of Nathan Clifford was a rare success for Buchanan. Black, who was Buchanan’s Secretary of State when he was nominated, was rejected by the senate by a single vote. Black lived for over 20 more years, which would have increased Buchanan’s influence on the Court greatly had Black been confirmed.]
Matthews 13
Total 13
[Matthews is one of the only legacies left behind by Garfield’s half-year presidency.]
Nelson 32
Spencer -8
Walworth -9
King -6
Read -3
Total 9
[Except for the appointment of Nelson, no other president probably had as much difficulty appointing a SC justice. Spencer, Walworth and King were nominated multiple time each, consistently having their appointments postponed or ignored by Congress. Read was appointed and ignored only once.]
Campbell 9
Total 9
[Campbell, a Southerner, resigned when the South seceded from the Union.]
Sotomayor 5 *still serving*
Kagen 5 *still serving*
Garland -3
Total 7
[Sotomayor is the first Hispanic-American judge in SC history. Obama is also the only president nominated two women to the SC. Merrick Garland, a very experienced moderate with a history of bipartisan praise, was ignored by the Republican-controlled US Senate in a successful, but controversial effort to keep the seat open for Republican Donald Trump.]
JQ Adams
Trimble 4
Crittenden -3
Total 1
[John Quincy Adams is one of the most unlucky presidents when it comes to SC nomination. His sole confirmation died within Adams’s term. Jacksononian Democratic Congress refused to hear and confirm the admirable John. J. Crittenden of Kentucky in the first “Merrick Garland-like” situation in US history. Crittenden went on to serve as a moderating force in the US legislature leading up to the Civil War.]
Gorsuch 0 *pending confirmation*
[Trump’s confirmation has been criticized by Democrats, mostly for having come at the expense of Merrick Garland, who’s seat many believed was stolen from him by Republicans who refused to put Garland up to a confirmation vote. As such, there is talk that the Democrats might block Gorsuch, who would need 60 votes for confirmation. However, Republicans have argued that they will change the rules to a simple majority, allowing Gorsuch to take the spot that was once tabbed for Garland. It is notable that Gorsuch is only 49 years old and is, therefore, likely to serve at least three decades on the court. It seems more likely than not that Trump could appoint two to three judges in his single term. As such, if the Democrats retake the Senate in 2018, it is very likely that Trump will face the “Merrick Garland treatment” to one or all appointments.]
Curtis 9
Bradford -3
Micou -3
Badger -3
Total 0
[Fillmore’s one successful appointee is notable as the first SC justice to have earned a law degree from a law school. Curtis would resign in 1857, bitter over the Dred Scott decision and the Taney court. Bradford and Micou”s nominations were ignored by the Senate. Badger was ignored until withdrawn.]
WH Harrison
Total 0
[Harrison, due to his brief presidency, is the first president to never appoint a SC justice.]

Total 0
[Taylor never appointed a judge in his brief presidency. His strong and uncompromising Unionist tendencies would likely have resulted in a selection rejected by Southern senators had he nominated anyone.]
Total 0
[Jimmy Carter is the only president to serve at least a full-term as president and never appoint a judge to the SC. If he had, he may have had some trouble getting a confirmation, since his relations with legislative branch wasn’t always the best.]
A Johnson
Stanberry -3
Total: -3
[Johnson could not get his Attorney General, and his only SC nominee, confirmed since the senate ignored the nominee, even though the nominee was a Republican. It is likely this senate would have “Merrick-Garlanded” every nomination to the court. Johnson is the only president to have a total negative influence on the court.]

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