History Through Spreadsheets: Supreme Court Confirmations

Quote of the Day

You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.

Jeannette Rankin. This quote gets me thinking about recent history – every US president ought to think hard about this quote. There is a related quote from Lawrence Korb that I like which says "Wars don't solve problems, they determine who will solve the problems."


Figure 1: Supreme Court Confirmations By President.

Figure 1: Supreme Court Confirmations By President. (Data Source)

I recently gave a seminar to my staff on using Excel with Power Query. As part of the seminar, I presented a number of web scraping examples that were well received, and I decided that some of you may appreciate them also.

When I was training myself on web scraping, I needed some free and interesting examples on which to practice. The most sophisticated work I have done involved scraping geographic data from the Wikipedia (example). For the seminar, I needed some examples that were simpler. Since I am interested in history and politics, I decided to focus on two broad categories:

  • History: WW2 is a particularly rich area, but there are many others.
  • Civics: Primarily fact-checking politicians – the amount of political lying lately is breathtaking.

Last night, I watched President Trump announce his nomination for the Supreme Court seat that was held by Antonin Scalia. While watching the announcement, I decided to grab some data on the number of Supreme Court confirmations by president and plot the data (Figure 1). There are some interesting facts to glean from this graph:

  • George Washington got so many appointments because he was first and starting with an empty court – no one will ever be first again. The Supreme Court initially only had six members, but there was some churn during his administration. The number of justices did not settle down to nine until 1866. At one point, it was as large as ten.
  • Franklin Roosevelt got so many appointments because he was president the longest. Even with all his appointments, he was not happy with the Supreme Court justices at the time – historians still talk about his attempts to "pack" the court by increasing its size.
  • Four presidents had no Supreme Court appointments – Jimmy Carter was the last president to have no appointments.
  • I would suspect we will see fewer appointments each presidential term because the justices are being nominated when they are relatively young and they serve until they are quite old. Presidents like to appoint young justices because it extends their legacy.

For those who are interested, my source file is here.

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