Ruth Bader Ginsburg celebrates 25 years in the Supreme Court today — here’s when she and her colleagues could retire

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC in March.

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Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC in March.
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Allison Shelley/Getty

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg celebrates 25 years in the Supreme Court today – and while she has vowed to stay on in the role, people have been left wondering when she might retire, and when other seats on the court might become vacant.

The retirement of one judge in July has given Trump a chance to nominate the conservative Brett Kavanaugh and has left people wondering if he might get the chance to model the court in his image by replacing Ginsburg or another judge.

Business Insider has calculated an average retirement age and tenure length for the last 11 justices to retire, going back to Justice Warren E. Burger, who quit in 1986.

The average age of retirement for the past 11 justices was 80. These justices spent an average of 27 years in the court (according to the Supreme Court website, the all-time average is shorter, at 16 years).

We have averaged the two metrics to reach a ballpark year that the justices could retire based on precedent. It is worth remembering this is a rough prediction and a justice can leave the Supreme Court at any time for any reason.

Scroll down to see where each Supreme Court justice stands – and when the figures suggest their term could end.


Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Predicted departure: Two years ago

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Age: 85 (5 years past average retirement)

Tenure: 25 years (2 years less than average)

Friday marks the 25th anniversary of Ginsburg’s confirmation to the US Supreme Court.

Born in 1933, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is now 85 years old – four years than older Kennedy, and five years past the average retirement age.

She took her seat on the Supreme Court in 1993 after a nomination from Bill Clinton. Her tenure is currently two years shorter than the average.

In July, Ginsburg signaled that she hopes to stay in the Supreme Court for at least another five years.

She also told PBS in January that she would adopt the plan of former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who retired at the age of 90.

She further suggested that would be sticking to these plans and that she would not retire before the end of Trump’s term as president by hiring four full-time law clerks through to 2020 – a move that is not typical for justices who plan on stepping down.

Ginsburg, who has become something of a liberal icon, said in February: “As long as I can do the job full steam, I will be here.”


Stephen Breyer. Predicted departure: 2021

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Age: 79 (1 year before average retirement)

Tenure: 24 years (3 years less than average)

At 79, Breyer has not made any suggestion that he will retire soon. He is a year younger than the average retirement age, and his tenure is currently three years shorter than the average.

Breyer has been a Supreme Court Justice since August 1994, following a nomination from President Bill Clinton.

As a liberal justice, Breyer may want to continue in office to prevent a conservative pick gaining his seat.


Clarence Thomas. Predicted departure: 2024

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Age: 70 (10 years before average retirement)

Tenure: 26 years (1 year less than average)

Highly conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is 70, having served on the court since October 1991 after a nomination from George Bush. He is 10 years younger than the average retirement age, but he started relatively young, so his tenure is now just one year shorter than the average.

When rumors that a Supreme Court justice was to retire emerged, some wondered if Thomas would go instead of Kennedy.

Thomas made no public comment about this. A 2016 report that said he would retire was rejected by his wife, Ginni, on Facebook. She wrote: “IT. IS. BOGUS!”


Samuel Alito. Predicted departure: 2032

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Age: 68 (12 years before average retirement)

Tenure: 12 years (15 years less than average)

Alito has been in his seat since January 2006, following a nomination from President George W Bush. At 68, he has not made any public comments that suggest he may retire soon, and he is 12 years younger than the average retirement age, with another 15 years to go before his tenure reaches the average length.

A consistent conservative voter, he laid out a plan for the Supreme Court in 2016 if it won a conservative majority after Trump took office. He may well want to see this agenda through now that Trump has added more conservative justices to the court.


Sonia Sotomayor. Predicted departure: 2036

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Age: 64 (16 years before average retirement)

Tenure: 9 years (18 years less than average)

At 64, Sotomayor has only served on the court since August 2009, after a nomination from President Barack Obama. She is 16 years younger than the average retirement age, and her tenure is currently 18 years behind the average length.

But Trump has reportedly said he believes he will be able to replace Sotomayor, citing her health. Trump has talked about Sotomayor’s Type 1 diabetes, sources told to news website Axios, saying: “Her health, no good. Diabetes.”

Paramedics were called to Sotomayor’s house in January, but she went back to work that day following treatment for low blood sugar. She was not hospitalised, Politico reported.

Sotomayor previously described herself as “super vigilant” about her condition.

As with the other liberal judges, she may well want to keep her seat for the near future to prevent it going to a conservative judge.


John Roberts. Predicted departure: 2034

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Age: 63 (17 years before average retirement)

Tenure: 12 years (15 years less than average)

At 63, Chief Justice John Roberts is one of the younger members of the court. He only took his seat in 2005, after he was nominated by George W Bush.

Roberts is likely to become the court’s swing vote now that Kennedy has retired, as he will become the ideological middle between the more conservative and liberal members of the court.

There is no sign Roberts will step down anytime soon.


Elena Kagan. Predicted departure: 2039

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Age: 58 (22 years before average retirement)

Tenure: 8 years (19 years less than average)

Age 58, Kagan is a liberal judge nominated by President Barack Obama. She assumed the role in August 2010. She is 19 years younger than the average retirement age and has another 20 years to go before her tenure reaches the average length.

She was outspoken over the court’s decision to uphold Trump’s travel ban, accusing conservative colleagues of using the First Amendment as “a sword” to influence politics and the economy.

She called some of her colleagues “black-robed rulers overriding citizens’ choices,” and it is unlikely that she will look to offer her seat to another conservative voice nominated by Trump.


Neil Gorsuch. Predicted departure: 2046

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Age: 50 (30 years before average retirement)

Tenure: 1 year (26 years less than average)

Gorsuch only took his seat in April last year. He was nominated by Trump, and, at 50, is the youngest on the court. He has 30 years before he reaches the average retirement age, and another 26 years before he reaches the average tenure length.

The Washington Post reported that Trump talked about rescinding his nomination, and was worried that Gorsuch would not be loyal enough. Trump has disputed these claims. Gorsuch has voted against Trump’s administration previously, including deporting immigrants who commit crimes in the US.

Despite this, the young, conservative judge is likely to sit on the court and shape laws for decades to come.