The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
President Theodore Roosevelt had one lower court appointees that was elevated to the Supreme Court. Roosevelt appointed Judge Van Devanter to the Eight Circuit.
President Taft had zero lower court appointees that were elevated to the Supreme Court
President Wilson had one lower court appointee that was elevated to the Supreme Court. Wilson had appointed Judge Clarke to the Northern District of Ohio. Justice Brandeis had never served as a lower court judge. And Justice McReynolds was Wilson's Attorney General.
President Harding had zero lower court appointees that were elevated to the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Taft was appointed to the Sixth Circuit by President Benjamin Harrison. Justice Sutherland had been a Senator from Utah. Justice Butler did not serve as a federal judge. Justice Sanford was appointed by President T. Roosevelt as a District Court Judge in Tennessee.
President Coolidge had zero lower court appointees that were elevated to the Supreme Court.
President Hoover had zero lower court appointees that were elevated to the Supreme Court. Justice Cardozo came from the New York Court of Appeals. Owen Roberts was not a lower federal court judge. Chief Justice Hughes had served as Secretary of State, but was previously a Taft appointee as Associate Justice.
You would think that FDR has the record, but so many of his Supreme Court nominees came from outside the judiciary. President Roosevelt had two-lower court appointee that were elevated to the Supreme Court: Judge Rutledge to the D.C. Circuit and Judge Minton to the Seventh Circuit (a Truman appointee. Justice Byrnes was a Senator from South Carolina, Chief Justice Stone served as Attorney General under President Coolidge, Justice Murphy served as Attorney General, Justice Douglas was Chairman of the SEC, Justice Frankfurter came from Harvard Law School, Justice Reed was Solicitor General, and Justice Black was a Senator from Alabama.
President Truman had zero lower court appointee that were elevated to the Supreme Court: Chief Justice Vinson was the Secretary of the Treasury, Justice Minton was a Roosevelt appointee, Justice Clark was Attorney General, and Justice Burton was a Senator from Ohio.
President Eisenhower had five-lower court appointee that were elevated to the Supreme Court. Eisenhower picked three of his own appointees for the high court. Judge Harlan from the Second Circuit, Judge Stewart from the Sixth Circuit, and Judge Whittaker from the Eighth Circuit. And Nixon later tapped two Eisenhower nominee for the Supreme Court: Judge Burger from the D.C. Circuit and Judge Blackmun from the Eighth Circuit. Chief Justice Warren came from the California Governorship and Justice Brennan came from the New Jersey Supreme Court.
President Kennedy had one-lower court appointee that was elevated to the Supreme Court. His successor, Lyndon Johnson, tapped Judge Thurgood Marshall from the Second Circuit. Justices Goldberg and White did not serve as lower-court judges.
President Johnson had zero court appointee that was elevated to the Supreme Court. He plucked Abe Fortas from private practice.
President Nixon had one-lower court appointee that was elevated to the Supreme Court. His successor, President Ford, selected John Paul Stevens from the Seventh Circuit. Chief Justice Burger and Justice Powell were Eisenhower nominees. Justice Powell represented the Chamber of Commerce (we are never, ever allowed to forget that critical fact). And Justice Rehnquist served in the Nixon Administration.
President Ford had one lower-court appointee that was later elevated to the Supreme Court: Judge Kennedy to the Ninth Circuit.
President Carter appointed two: Judge Breyer to the First Circuit and Judge Ginsburg to the D.C. Circuit.
President Reagan only appointed one lower-court nominee who made it to the Supreme Court: Judge Scalia was appointed to the D.C. Circuit. Justice O'Connor was not a federal judge. Justice Rehnquist was plucked from the Nixon administration And Judge Kennedy was a Ford appointee. He did nominate one of his own appointees, Judge Robert Bork, but we all know what happened there. And Reagan never formally nominated Judge Douglas Ginsburg, another one of his appointees.
President George H.W Bush is the runner-up to Eisenhower with four lower-court nominees who were later elevated to the Supreme Court. And he did it in a single term! He appointed Judge Souter to the First Circuit, Judge Alito to the Third Circuit, Judge Thomas to the D.C. Circuit, and Judge Sotomayor to the Southern District of New York. Bush also nominated John Roberts to the D.C. Circuit, but he was not confirmed.
President Clinton had one: Judge Sotomayor to the Second Circuit. Clinton did nominate Elena Kagan to the D.C. Circuit, but she was not confirmed.
President George W. Bush appointed three: Judge Gorsuch to the 10th Circuit, and Judges Roberts and Kavanaugh to the D.C. Circuit.
So far, none of President Obama's lower-court nominees have been appointed to the Supreme Court. That number very well may change in the next 4-8 years.
President Trump's circuit court nominees are so young, they will likely be in contention for the next two decades or so.