Do you have to have been a judge to be a Supreme Court Justice?

No! Although the majority of Supreme Court Justices had prior judicial experience, over 1/3 had never been judges.

The US Constitution does not impose any kind of work experience upon potential justices. The only limitation the Consitution imposes is that the President must select a nominee, and the Senate must confirm him or her. Congressional members and the Department of Justice may make recommendations to the President for nomination. The Senate turns to an informal set of criteria when considering candidates.

Items of note:

  • All current Justices were judges prior to being nominated to the Supreme Court.
  • Some of the most well-known Justices weren't judges first: William Rehnquist, Byron White, Earl Warren, Felix Frankfurter, Louis Brandeis
  • 42 out of the 111 Supreme Court Justices (up to Justice Sotomayor) had no prior judicial experience.

Prior Judicial Experience
of Supreme Court Justices

38% of Supreme Court Justices had NO prior judicial experience.

Prior Judicial Experience of Supreme Court Justices


Answer by  Krabi (112)

I would have expected that a few Supreme Court Justices were never judges, but that over 1/3 had no judicial experience is pretty surprising. I presume that their other legal experience convinced the selection committee that they were worthy of admission to the court.


Answer by  TicketMan4u (16)

Although all of our current Justices had prior judicial experience you do not have to have had any to be one. Over one third of our former Supreme Court Justices had no prior judicial experience at all before being appointed to serve as the highest judges of the land.


Answer by  Centrifugal (69)

Amazing that one of the most well-known Supreme Court Justices, Earl Warren, had no prior judicial experience.


Answer by  xsut (943)

Absolutely not! You do not have to have been a judge to be a Supreme Court Justice but it is highly expected especially these days.

Reply by penrose (235):
Right. According to the chart, the last eleven justices were judges before being nominated to the SCOTUS.  add a comment

Answer by  mangosteen (272)

I don't think that we should be so surprised by these statistics... should all basketball referees have been basketball players? Sure, past experience can help, but it seems that you could be an excellent referee without having played yourself.

Reply by onecrore (196):
I am surprised by the statistics, but I am even more surprised by your comparison of a Supreme Court Justice to something as insignificant as a basketball ref. The Supreme Court has massive power over hundreds of millions of people.  add a comment
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