The Actuarial Life Expectancies of the SCOTUS Short List

January 6th, 2017

One of the more morbid considerations when nominating a Supreme Court Justice is age: how long will the individual live, and thus serve on the bench? Most of the discussions on this topic fail to account for a really important actuarial principle–women tend to live longer than men. For example, in certain circles I’ve heard that Judge Diane Sykes (59 years, 1 month) is less desirable than, say, Judge Bill Pryor (54 years, 8 months), due to age. However, if you refer to the Social Security Administration’s actuarial life table, Judges Sykes and Pryor have the exact same life expectancy.

In the below table, for the members of the short list, I’ve charted their birthday, current age, expected years, expected age, and the year-of-death. Please note that these are utterly uninformed actuarial estimates, which do not account for factors like personal characteristics and family health history. They are based solely on a person’s current age (I rounded up to the next age-year if their birthday was more than 6 months away). Also, I was unable to find the birthdays of certain state-court judges, so I (crudely) took the Wikipedia year of birth, and selected January 1. If anyone has a birthday, I’d be happy to update the results.

Taking these estimates as accurate, the members of the short list could conceivably serve until, as early as 2034, and as late as 2053.