Here's What Could Happen With Supreme Court Appointments In 2019

by Hannah Golden
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

President Donald Trump has already proven to have a roller coaster ride of a presidency, and among the twists and turns, he's had quite an impact on the nation's judicial branch since taking office. Two major high-profile appointments in his first half-term have brought up questions about the fate of the Supreme Court under Trump from here on out. So, will Trump appoint another SCOTUS justice in 2019? There's no telling what will happen in the remainder of Trump's presidency, but here's a rundown of what those outcomes might look like.

Trump has already appointed as many justices to the Supreme Court in two years as his predecessor did in eight. In 2017, Neil Gorsuch was approved to take over the seat of late Justice Antonin Scalia; and in 2018, Brett Kavanaugh was approved to do the same for retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. With those two appointments, Trump has swayed the court to a more conservative balance.

Supreme Court justices serve for life, until death or retirement from the post. According to The Guardian, the average age for retirement of the last 11 SCOTUS justices was 80; two justices are already past that age. At 85, the oldest member currently on the court is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who's been serving for 25 years, followed by Justice Steven Breyer, 80, who's been serving for 24 years. At a sprightly age 70, Justice Clarence Thomas, confirmed in 1991, is the longest-serving justice on the court.

If some thought that Ginsburg may be hitting retirement age, she's made it clear that she's not quitting anytime soon, and in fact plans to serve at least until she turns 90 (and her intense workout regimen may help keep her fit for the bench).

Ginsburg is also one tough cookie, though she suffered a fall earlier in November, she was back at work promptly. She's also bounced back from previous medical procedures, including beating cancer twice.

As The Guardian also reports, Breyer is expected to hold off on retirement until 2020 or whenever Trump leaves office, presumably out of a desire not to give his seat up to another (almost certainly) conservative judge.

Should another justice retire before Trump leaves office (whenever that is), it would presumably be another extremely conservative one in the vein of Kavanaugh and Gorsuch. Some have already sounded alarm bells out of concern that Trump may get an opportunity to make a third appointment.

Presidential appointments must be approved by a majority of the Senate. Thanks to the results of the 2018 midterm elections, though, the chamber still has a Republican majority, and with the example of both Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, it's hard to imagine a third such selection wouldn't get their yes.

On the current court as of writing, Presidents Donald Trump, Barack Obama, and Bill Clinton all have appointed two justices each; while three of President George W. Bush's appointees still sit on the court. Per, George Washington, as the first president of the country, had the honor of making the most SCOTUS appointments, at 11, while Presidents Ulysses S. Grant had eight and Andrew Jackson had seven. (The number of Supreme Court justices hasn't always been steady.) So Trump still has a ways to go before he beats those records, and the current Supreme Court is trending fairly young as justices go, with seven of the nine members between the ages of 50 and 70.

Notably, the Supreme Court is in a unique position to weigh on, of all things, other Trump appointments. In response to the recent appointment of Matthew Whitaker to head the Justice Department, bucking succession protocol, one of the most prominent Supreme Court lawyers filed a brief with the court calling it a "constitutional crisis."

Beyond anomalies like this, as the top of the nation's third branch of government, the Supreme Court makes decisions that have a profound impact on American's lives, and have ruled on everything from gay marriage to Trump's travel ban. So with the court's current 5-4 conservative majority, a lot hangs in the balance, whether or not Trump gets a third pick to join the court.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story misstated which Supreme Court justice has served longest. It has been updated with the correct information.