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Supreme Court Forecast

Occupied by several aging justices, the court will likely alter under President Obama. USC’s Howard Gillman studies the chances of a political shift.

Occupied by several aging justices, the Supreme Court will likely alter under the Obama administration. Howard Gillman, dean of the USC College and a Supreme Court scholar, studies the chances of a political shift.

“With five justices 70 or older, the prospects for multiple Supreme Court appointments are very high,” Gillman says.

“There are currently four very conservative justices and another, Anthony Kennedy, who usually — although not always — votes with those four,” Gillman notes. “But the justices most likely to retire are not from this group. If 88-year-old John Paul Stevens (appointed by Republican President Gerald Ford) or 75-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg (appointed by Bill Clinton) choose to go, then it is likely that they would replaced by justices with similar moderate-to-liberal leanings, and this would mean that the court would maintain roughly the same ideological balance that it now has.

“The same result would occur if David Souter (who was appointed by President George H.W. Bush and votes as a New England liberal Republican) stepped down, and there is some indication that he prefers New Hampshire to Washington and has been waiting for the election of a less conservative president before retiring,” Gillman says.

“For President Obama to change the direction of the court, we would need to see one of the more conservative justices retire,” Gillman explains. “Antonin Scalia (appointed by Ronald Reagan) is 72, but he shows no signs of slowing down; the same is true of Anthony Kennedy. Clarence Thomas is only 60 years old. Chief Justice John Roberts is about to turn 54, and Samuel Alito is 58.”

Howard Gillman, dean of the USC College and professor of Political Science, History and Law, is an expert on the U.S. Supreme Court and judicial politics. He is author of The Votes That Counted: How the Court Determined the 2000 Presidential Election (2001) and co-editor of The Supreme Court in American Politics (1999).
Contact him at (213) 740-8861 or

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