Supreme Court Press

AP US Government and Politics

How liberal is the Supreme Court?

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  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. What most surprised you about this data?

  3. List one question you have about this chart:

  4. Whoa!!!! Did you know that William O. Douglas is the longest-serving United States Supreme Court Justice by time in office (13,358 days)!? But who exactly was this thrice-married, second-youngest-ever Justice William O. Douglas guy, what did he believe in, and what kind of rulings did he issue that made him so very extremely liberal?

  5. What story does this chart tell about the ideological leanings of the median justice?

  6. Why do you think that is?

  7. What is the main consequence of this story of judicial moderation?

  8. Explain whether this moderation is generally good or bad news.

  9. Identify one of the main principles of a judicial conservative:

  10. Identify one of the main principles of a judicial liberal:

  11. How does this chart reflect the ideas of checks and balances?

  12. If instead of our system of presidential appointments and senatorial approval, we simply voted for our Supreme Court Justices, how different do you think this chart would look?

  13. On the current court, who is the most liberal and who is the most conservative?

  14. Since this chart was produced, Justice Scalia has been replaced by Justice Gorsuch, not dramatically altering the ideological balance of the court. Now Justice Kennedy (often the swing vote) will possibly be replaced by Brett Kavanaugh, after which POTUS Trump will probably have one or two more Supreme Court picks before his second term of office ends on January 20, 2025. How do you imagine that will reshape the ideological balance of the court?

  15. Big question: Why do we even have a Supreme Court anyway? I mean, it's not very (little d) democratic!

  16. Based on this chart, about how long does the average Supreme Court Justice serve?

  17. Over time, do Supreme Court Justices tend to get more liberal or more conservative?

  18. Why do you think that is?

  19. What is a consequence of this tendency?

  20. What specific Justice most deviated from this trend during their time on the bench (Supreme Court)?

  21. If you were to be placed on the Supreme Court (don't get too excited yet. This is just hypothetical!) Where would you fall on the ideological spectrum?

Learning Extension

Don't forget, we're just talking about the Supreme Court here. POTUS Trump also gets to fill vacancies on the federal district and federal appeals courts. Here's what vacancies in those areas look like and how they compare to years past.

Action Extension

Ask your favorite Supreme Court Justice to write you a letter describing their judicial philosophy. The Supreme Court doesn't really do email but you can call or write them at

General Contact Information:

U.S. Mail:
Supreme Court of the United States
 1 First Street, NE
 Washington, DC 20543

Telephone: 202-479-3000
TTY: 202-479-3472
 (Available M-F 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. eastern)

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Animal Extension

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