The Supreme Court of the United States is quite obviously the highest court in the land. It hears cases from both the criminal and civil sides of the legal system. While the Supreme Court can be very selective in which cases it chooses to hear, it generally hears those that will have a long-term impact on some part of American law. With this in mind, the Supreme Court is the ruling force behind school de-segregation, marriage equality, abortion rights for women and a host of other things that are important in American life. What does it take to become a Supreme Court justice? Here are some important concerns and qualifications.
Formal qualifications for Supreme Court justices
You may be surprised to learn that the Constitution does not provide any specific criteria that Supreme Court justices must satisfy in order to be selected. There is no age requirement, no requirement of citizenship and not requirement that one serve in any specific profession. While there are many qualifications for people who want to become president, the Supreme Court is, at least by law, a wide open race.
Confirmation by the Senate
Perhaps the reason why there are no specific qualifications is that a Supreme Court justice will always have to be confirmed by the Senate before he or she can be appointed. This provides a check on people getting the job if they are somehow dangerous or unqualified. If a president nominated an 18-year old computer science major from a local community college, the Constitution might technically allow that person to serve. The Senate, however, would never approve the president’s choice. This means that the Senate has informal rules by which it makes its determinations, and these informal rules tend to influence the president’s choice.
Lawyers, judges, and prominent people in the legal field
In practice, Supreme Court justices today are almost always chosen from among America’s elite legal minds. The vast majority will have served as a federal court judge on some major circuit prior to being appointed to the Supreme Court. In some cases, as with Elena Kagan, justices are pulled from the administration of elite law schools. In the past, presidents have appointed people serving as senators or in other positions in government. The vast majority of justices have been lawyers with serious experience.
Educational requirements in practice
It is ideally possible for a person to become a Supreme Court justice after going to almost any college. In the real world, though, if one wants to be a Supreme Court justice, he or she will need an Ivy League education. The current justices went to either Yale or Harvard Law School. Some in the past have sat on the bench after attending Columbia, Chicago and other similar elite schools. Given the way justices are nominated and confirmed today, however, it is very likely that one would need to have attended the most elite law school possible to even be considered for one of these positions, let alone confirmed by the Senate.