As Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh makes the rounds on Capitol Hill, liberals have no illusions about what his confirmation will mean for the Court. Kavanaugh’s opposition to abortion is already clear, and it doesn’t take much tea-leaf reading to figure out that he is, in the words of the conservative National Review, “a warrior for religious liberty.”
Paired with the appointment of Neil Gorsuch last year, Kavanaugh’s appointment would undoubtedly push the Court to the right. Conservatives are thrilled at the prospect, seeing a Court that will do their bidding for a generation. Liberals despair for the same reason.
But FiveThirtyEight, the website run by data guru Nate Silver, has a different, if slightly morbid, take on the conservative hold on the Court. The site looked at mortality tables for the Supreme Court justices to see how long they are likely to live based on their age.
The result: there’s less than a 50% chance that all five conservative justices (counting Kavanaugh) will be alive in 2026.
Betting on when justices will start shuffling off the mortal coil is a ghoulish exercise, although conservatives have been privately estimating Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s longevity for a while. In addition, FiveThirtyEight‘s projection is based on the mortality of the average individual, not these specific justices.
Still, the results are a reminder that nothing is forever. Moreover, the site is using death as the departure date from the Court. Justices can retire, like Anthony Kennedy did, well before they expire. After a quarter century of near total silence on the bench, Clarence Thomas is rumored to be tired of the job and a possible retiree.
None of this speculation minimizes the damage that the conservative bloc can do as long as it is the majority. A Justice Kavanaugh will be the deciding vote to erode the gains that Justice Kennedy worked to hard to bring to the LGBTQ community. But it’s worth reminding ourselves that the damage won’t go for for 20 years.
As long as Democrats reclaim the White House, of course. FiveThirtyEight estimates that there’s only a 50% chance all four of the remaining four liberal justices would be alive by 2023. If that doesn’t motivate folks to get out to vote, nothing ever will.