10 Longest-Serving Supreme Court Justices

While many people who desire political careers set their sights on legislative positions, others prefer to stick with the judicial branch of the United States government. These jurists interpret the law and do their best to solve disputes and clarify any discrepancies that arise. Because so much time and education goes into the development of judicial careers, most justices serve for a long time before retiring!

So, just how long can supreme court justices serve their government? Today we’ll take a look at 10 of the longest-serving supreme court justices and rank them according to how many days they spent in office. We’ll also learn about the backgrounds and highlights of each one.

  1. James Moore Wayne

Time in Service: 11,860 days
Home State: Georgia
Starting Date: January 14, 1835
Preceded By: William Johnson

James_Moore_Wayne  Source: wikimedia.org

James Moore Wayne remained loyal to the Union despite his southern heritage, and was mostly a staunch supporter of Andrew Jackson’s administration as well. Wayne was a very strong nationalist and his patriotism was evident in his courtroom views. He also served several terms as a congressman, with his nationalist views making him highly popular in his home state of Georgia.

Did you know? 

Wayne did not respect Native Americans’ claims to their land and supported the idea of American land belonging to the states instead.

  1. Joseph Story

Time in Service: 12,273 days
Home State: Massachusetts
Starting Date: February 3, 1812
Preceded By: William Cushing

Joseph_Story  Source: wikimedia.org

Joseph Story is remembered for joining forces with Chief Justice John Marshall and supporting the rise of American Nationalism. His other accomplishments include serving in the United States House of Representatives and the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Story strongly opposed Jeffersonian Democracy and personally brought potent republican influence to the courtroom and to US Congress.

Did you know? 

At the time of his election, Joseph Story was notable as the youngest person to serve in the United States Supreme Court, and he holds that title to this day.

  1. William Rehnquist, Chief Justice

Time in Service: 12,293 days
Home State: Wisconsin
Starting Date: January 7, 1972
Preceded By: Warren E. Burger

William_Rehnquist  Source: wikimedia.org

Originally born in Milwaukee as William Donald Rehnquist, William Hubbs Rehnquist served several years in the Supreme Court before being promoted to Chief Justice in 1986. While Joseph Story wanted power to stay in federal hands, William Rehnquist emphasized the Tenth Amendment in his practice and worked for states to retain their individual power. Rehnquist served in the U.S. Army Air Forces at the tail end of World War II before beginning his jurist career.

Did you know? 

Rehnquist’s mother was very well-educated and fluent in five different languages!

  1. William J. Brennan Jr.

Time in Service: 12,330 days
Home State: New Jersey
Starting Date: October 16, 1956
Preceded By: Sherman Minton

William_Brennan  Source: wikimedia.org

William Brennan’s father was an Irish immigrant who didn’t hesitate to make himself heard, working hard at a brewery and organizing unions when necessary. Many people remember Brennan primarily for working towards balancing individual freedoms of publishers with the overall well-being of the community while he handled obscenity cases. He’s also remembered for heading up the liberal wing of the Supreme Court.

Did you know? 

Brennan defended publications’ “right to be wrong,” stating that even misinformation should be protected unless it was proven to be malicious.

  1. John Marshall Harlan

Time in Service: 12,360 days
Home State: Kentucky
Starting Date: December 10, 1877
Preceded By: David Davis

John_Marshall_Harlan  Source: wikimedia.org

John Harlan is remembered for being one of the most forceful presences in the United States Supreme Court, especially when it came to protecting the rights of black citizens following the Civil War. He was also the first justice in the Supreme Court who advocated Incorporation of the Bill of Rights. Interestingly, his contributions were largely overlooked during the few decades right after his death, and he wasn’t truly recognized for his accomplishments until later.

Did you know? 

Harlan actually opposed the Thirteenth Amendment right after the war despite his later efforts to respect free black citizens.

  1. Hugo Black

Time in Service: 12,447 days
Home State: Alabama
Starting Date: August 19, 1937
Preceded By: Willis Van Devanter

Hugo_Black  Source: wikimedia.org

Hugo Black was a steadfast democrat and a strong supporter of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal during the 1930s. He led an interesting life, fighting against the mistreatment of black Americans and joining the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s in order to garner their support despite his lack of support for their activities. He dropped all association with the organization before becoming a senator and denounced their views despite maintaining cordial relationships with KKK leaders.

Did you know? 

Hugo Black succumbed to a stroke in 1971 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

  1. John Marshall, Chief Justice

Time in Service: 12,570 days
Home State: Virginia
Starting Date: February 4, 1801
Preceded By: Oliver Ellsworth

John_Marshall  Source: wikimedia.org

John Marshall is, first and foremost, associated with the formation of American federalism and supporting the United States Congress’ claim to authority. He also declared it unconstitutional for an individual state to place taxes upon instruments of the federal government. Marshall’s push for the US Congress to be taken seriously and respected as an equal branch of the government was furthered by his development of judicial review.

Did you know? 

John Marshall grew up in a small log cabin along with 14 siblings!

  1. John Paul Stevens

Time in Service: 12,611 days
Home State: Illinois
Starting Date: December 19, 1975
Preceded By: William O. Douglas

John_Paul_Stevens  Source: wikimedia.org

John Paul Stevens served as associate justice under three prominent supreme justices: William Rehnquist, Warren E. Burger, and John G. Roberts. Stevens encountered a great deal of family tragedy in the early 1930s as a result of corruption in the family hotel business coming to light. However, young Stevens refused to allow his family losses to hold him back and went on to serve in the Navy and excelled in law school.

Did you know? 

John Paul Stevens did not step down from his position in the Supreme Court until age 90!

  1. Stephen Johnson Field

Time in Service: 12,614 days
Home State: Connecticut
Starting Date: May 20, 1863
Preceded By: None

Stephen_Johnson_Field  Source: wikimedia.org

Stephen Johnson Field was conservative with a vested interest in businesses and their success. He supported private property rights over involvement by the federal government and was a strong advocate of “substantive due process.” He joined the Supreme Court of California following the onset of the Gold Rush and implemented disciplinary techniques such as the whipping post.

Did you know? 

Field lived in Turkey and Greece with relatives during his teenage years before returning to the United States to attend school in New York.

  1. William O. Douglas

Time in Service: 13,358 days
Home State: Minnesota
Starting Date: April 17, 1939
Preceded By: Louis Brandeis

William_O_Douglas  Source: wikimedia.org

William O. Douglas was the longest-serving supreme court justice in United States history. He was primarily known for his outspoken and steadfast support and defense of civil liberties. Douglas was also one of the youngest people to be appointed to the Supreme Court at age 40 after being nominated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was strongly considered for the Democratic vice presidential nomination in 1944 and eventually broke the record for issuing the most legal opinions as Supreme Court Justice.

Did you know? 

William Douglas got polio as a child, but managed to recover well and enjoyed spending time outdoors.

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