Age of Supreme Court Justices at Confirmation with Power Query

Quote of the Day

In Order To Do Good, You May Have To Engage in Evil.

Robert McNamara, rule #9 in his lessons of life. A classic example of government double-speak.

Figure 1: Justice William O. Douglas. Youngest Justice Appointed in the 20th Century.

Figure 1: Justice William O. Douglas, the Youngest Justice Confirmed in the 20th Century (40 years old). (Image)

I was listening to a political pundit mention that both US political parties want to confirm young Supreme Court justices to ensure that their judicial philosophies endure. I was curious as to whether that was true over time. I went to the Wikipedia and saw that they had a list of all the justices since the founding of the US and web pages for each justice. Sounds like a perfect opportunity for a bit of web scraping!

Here is my process: (1) download the list of Supreme Court justices using Power Query, (2) grab the dates of Senate confirmation from this list, (3) grab birth dates from their individual Wikipedia pages, (4) compute their age at confirmation using this function, (5) plot the ages of the justices at their confirmation using ggplot2 along with smoothed line (loess with geom_smooth).

Figure 2 shows my plot of confirmation ages over time. There are several points we can make about this plot:

  • The confirmation age has been trending lower since 1900.
  • The youngest confirmation ages occurred early in the history of the republic.
  • The youngest justice in history at 32 years and 2 months old was Joseph Story,  who was confirmed in 1811. He was played in the movie Amistad by Harry Blackmun, a real Supreme Court justice.
Figure 2: Graph of Supreme Court Justice Ages at Their Time of Confirmation.

Figure 2: Graph of Supreme Court Justice Ages at Their Time of Confirmation.

For those who want to look under the covers, my source material is in this zip file.

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