Ronald Reagan


Who were Reagan’s U.S. Supreme Court appointees?

Reagan elevated one associate justice to chief justice and named three individuals as associate justices to the Supreme Court. In 1981, Reagan made history by nominating the first woman to the U.S. Supreme Court—Sandra Day O’Connor. Reagan had pledged during the campaign to nominate a woman to the Court and he kept his word. A former Arizona state legislator, O’Connor served on the Court from 1981 to 2006. She crafted many important decisions on religious freedom and served as a key swing vote on many cases. She supported the right of abortion for women.

In 1986, Reagan pulled a coup for conservatives when he elevated sitting associate justice William H. Rehnquist to chief justice. That left an open spot for an associate justice, and Reagan nominated Antonin Scalia, a firebrand conservative serving as a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Senate focused on the nomination of Rehnquist, allowing Scalia to skate through with a ninety-eight to zero confirmation vote. Rehnquist served on the Court until his death in 2005. He was regarded as an excellent administrator of the Court. Scalia, who is still on the Court, changed the culture of oral argument, asking more questions of attorneys than any previous justice. He is a powerful voice on the Court.

In 1988, Reagan nominated Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is still on the Court. Reagan originally chose former Nixon solicitor general Robert Bork as his nominee, but the Senate rejected (or “borked”) him because of his ultraconservative views. Reagan then nominated Douglas Ginsburg, who withdrew after allegations surfaced of past marijuana usage.


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