Has any Supreme Court justice ran for president?

No current or former Supreme Court justice is running for president in the 2024 election. However, there have been a few instances throughout history of Supreme Court justices running for president or seriously considering a presidential bid. So while it’s uncommon, it’s not unprecedented for a Supreme Court justice to run for the nation’s highest office.

Quick Overview of Supreme Court Justices Who Ran for President

  • Justice Charles Evans Hughes – Resigned from the Supreme Court to run as the Republican nominee in 1916. He lost to Woodrow Wilson.
  • Justice Douglas Ginsburg – Ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination in 1972 while still serving on the Court.
  • Justice Earl Warren – Actively pursued the Republican nomination in 1952 and 1968 but did not receive it.
  • Justice William O. Douglas – Explored running for president several times but never officially ran.

The Campaign of Charles Evans Hughes

Charles Evans Hughes served as an associate justice on the Supreme Court from 1910 to 1916. In 1916, Hughes resigned from the Court to accept the Republican nomination for president. Hughes ran against incumbent Democratic President Woodrow Wilson. At the time, Wilson had kept America out of World War I and campaigned under the slogan “He kept us out of war.”

Hughes criticized Wilson’s foreign policy as being too weak. He advocated for preparedness and war readiness. Hughes lost a very close election to Wilson. Hughes received 46.1% of the popular vote and 254 electoral votes compared to Wilson’s 49.2% and 277 electoral votes.

After his defeat, Hughes returned to private legal practice until 1930 when he was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by President Herbert Hoover. He served in that role until 1941.

So while no Supreme Court justice has ever been elected president, Hughes came the closest. He resigned from the Court to wage an active campaign and nearly unseated the incumbent president. It demonstrated that under the right circumstances, a sitting or former Supreme Court justice could be a formidable presidential candidate.

The Failed Presidential Bid of Douglas Ginsburg

The next Supreme Court justice to actively pursue the presidency was William Douglas, who went by Douglas Ginsburg. In 1972, while still serving on the Court, Ginsburg sought the Democratic nomination for president.

However, Ginsburg’s campaign failed to gain any traction. He entered the race very late, in January 1972, after many other Democratic candidates had already been campaigning for months. Ginsburg positioned himself as an anti-war candidate. He proposed withdrawing all American forces immediately from Vietnam if elected.

But Ginsburg struggled to be taken seriously and get media coverage for his unlikely bid. He failed to get on the ballot in most states for the Democratic primaries. Ultimately, Ginsburg withdrew from the race in early April, having failed to win any primary contests.

So while Ginsburg was technically the first sitting Supreme Court justice to actively run for president since Hughes in 1916, his campaign never got off the ground. He failed to receive substantial votes or make any impact in the race won by George McGovern. But it did show that a sitting justice in modern times could attempt a presidential run, even if unsuccessful.

Earl Warren’s Pursuit of the Republican Nomination

Chief Justice Earl Warren never officially ran for president but actively pursued the Republican nomination twice while sitting on the Court.

In 1952, Warren initially declined to run but later announced he would accept a draft. He won several primaries as a favorite son candidate in California but failed to win the nomination at the Republican convention, which went to Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Again in 1968, there was a grassroots “Warren for President” campaign to get him to run against Richard Nixon. Warren again agreed to accept a draft nomination. But Nixon easily clinched the nomination on the first ballot.

Warren’s pursuit of the Republican nomination while Chief Justice demonstrated that a sitting justice could be receptive to a presidential draft movement, even if not wage an official campaign. It showed the potential appeal of justices like Warren who were well-known nationally and had reputations for independence beyond ideological partisanship.

William O. Douglas’ Contemplation of Presidential Bids

Justice William O. Douglas served on the Supreme Court for over 36 years from 1939 to 1975, longer than any other justice. During that time, he contemplated running for president at least five times.

In 1948, Democrats in Oregon and Washington formed a National Draft Douglas League to get him to run. He declined but accepted the offer if nominated at the Democratic convention, where Truman was nominated.

In 1952, a Draft Douglas Committee pushed him to run but he again declined. In 1960, JFK visited Douglas to determine if Douglas would run against him in the Democratic primaries. Douglas disavowed any intention to run.

In 1968, Douglas was again rumored to be considering a run, this time challenging LBJ in the Democratic primaries over the Vietnam War. But Douglas did not end up entering the race.

Finally in 1972, Douglas was floated as a peace candidate versus Nixon. But his candidacy never materialized, likely because of concerns over his health and Nixon’s strong political position at the time.

So while Douglas seriously contemplated presidential bids on several occasions, he never officially threw his hat into the ring. But it demonstrated that even into the modern era, Supreme Court justices could credibly weigh running for the presidency. Douglas’ name being floated so often showed that justices who were nationally prominent and independent minded could be appealing presidential candidates, at least hypothetically.

Why So Few Supreme Court Justices Have Run for President

Given that Supreme Court justices tend to be nationally prominent and have impeccable legal qualifications, it may seem surprising more have not sought the presidency over time. But there are some significant deterrents that have dissuaded most justices from running.

Perception of Judicial Impartiality

The biggest deterrent is likely the perception that running for partisan office could compromise a justice’s impartiality on the Court. Justices are supposed to be independent arbiters of the law who operate above partisan politics. A justice actively running for president as the nominee of a political party would undermine that neutrality. It could damage public faith in the Court and its rulings.

Potential Conflict of Interest

Relatedly, there could be a conflict of interest if a sitting justice ran for president while still serving on the Court. Any election-related lawsuits could potentially come before the Court, creating an ethical dilemma for the running justice. This helps explain why Hughes resigned before running and why Ginsburg’s campaign didn’t gain traction.

Satisfaction with Position

Supreme Court justices hold lifetime appointments to one of the most prestigious and powerful roles in government. Many justices likely feel satisfied in their current role and are not eager to jump into the political fray of an election. Once on the Court, justices may feel they can have more impact by shaping American law than trying to become president.

Hesitation to Risk Reputations

Justices may also be wary of risking their distinguished reputations and legacies built over long legal careers by entering messy partisan elections that could tarnish their impartial images. Most would likely prefer preserving their legacies as esteemed jurists rather than potential failed candidates.

Lack of Campaign Experience

Finally, justices’ lack of campaign experience could be a hindrance. Most have spent careers as lawyers, judges and jurists – not partisan politicians. Building national campaigns and running for elected office would be a novel experience and disadvantage compared to career politicians.

So while there are occasional exceptions, the apolitical nature of the Supreme Court and its justices has largely discouraged them from seeking the presidency over the Court’s history. Those who have run likely believed the political circumstances and their personal appeal could overcome the deterrents. But the status quo remains that Supreme Court justices typically avoid overt partisan politics like presidential campaigns.

Contemporary Justices Who Could Run

Given this history, which of the current Supreme Court justices seem most likely to potentially run for president in the future? Here are a few possibilities:

Amy Coney Barrett

As the newest justice, Barrett’s national profile is still elevated after her contentious confirmation in 2020. She has strong appeal among religious conservatives which could form the base for a Republican primary bid. At 51, she could have another presidential run in her future. Her odds seem low given her short tenure so far on the Court, but the right circumstances could change things.

Clarence Thomas

Thomas has been outspoken in recent years about the direction of American politics and society. With nearly 30 years on the Court, he has one of the highest profiles nationally. If he resigned to run, Thomas could contend for the Republican nomination from the right with an eye towards an issues-focused campaign on the populist-conservative grievances he’s articulated from the bench.

Sonia Sotomayor

On the Democratic side, Sotomayor has inspired progressive activists through her dissents on issues from immigration to affirmative action. She has a compelling personal story as the Court’s first Hispanic justice. While unlikely and unprecedented so soon for a new Democratic appointee, some activists might urge Sotomayor to consider a bid to become the first Hispanic president.


In conclusion, while extremely rare historically, there are a handful of examples of Supreme Court justices either actively running for president, seeking their party’s nomination, or contemplating a campaign. Charles Evans Hughes came the closest to actually being elected when he resigned from the Court and secured the Republican nomination in 1916 before losing a close election.

More common are instances like William Douglas where presidents were recurrently floated as potential candidates but never officially ran. Contemporary justices like Amy Coney Barrett, Clarence Thomas or Sonia Sotomayor could conceivably attract enough support to prompt consideration of campaigns for the presidency. But the prevailing wisdom remains that Supreme Court justices are best served sticking to their constitutional role above partisan politics. So any future justices who may run for president would have to justify bucking traditional expectations for the apolitical nature of the Court.

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