The Presidential Aspirations of U.S. Supreme Court Justices: A History and an Ethical Warning

53 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2010 Last revised: 27 Apr 2010

See all articles by William G. Ross

William G. Ross

Samford University - Cumberland School of Law

Date Written: February 5, 2010


A remarkably large number of U.S. Supreme Court justices have had presidential aspirations while serving on the Court. Several have conducted covert presidential campaigns, and a few nineteenth century justices even campaigned openly from the bench. In at least three quarters of the elections between 1832 and 1956, one or more justices attempted to obtain a presidential or vice presidential nomination or were prominently mentioned as potential candidates,

During the past half century, no Supreme Court justice appears to have have entertained serious presidential ambitions, probably because no justice who has been appointed during the past fifty years has held any significant elected office before taking his or her seat on the Court.

This article surveys the history of presidential ambitions by Supreme Court justices and argues that the tendency of modern presidents to appoint justices who have not held public office has helped to enhance public confidence in the integrity and independence of the Court. Presidential ambitions could influence the votes of justices and the manner in which they write their opinions and it can create discord among the justices.

Although the Court can benefit from the experience of justices who have served in elected office, presidents should be very careful about nominating to the Court any person who might harbor presidential ambition.

Suggested Citation

Ross, William G., The Presidential Aspirations of U.S. Supreme Court Justices: A History and an Ethical Warning (February 5, 2010). Available at SSRN: or

William G. Ross (Contact Author)

Samford University - Cumberland School of Law ( email )

800 Lakeshore Dr.
Birmingham, AL 35229
United States

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