With the Supreme Court as closely divided as it has ever been — five conservatives and four liberals — the next few years could make a dramatic difference in the future of the court. Slate has put together a Supreme Court Justice Death Generator using CDC data to give some basic actuarial odds on which side is likely to lose a justice.
The odds of a single opening on the Supreme Court due to the death of one of the justices in the next four years is 64.95%. The odds that it will come from the conservative wing of the court: 46.05%. The odds that it will come from the liberal wing of the court: 32.9%. Are you buying that? I don’t think I am. I suspect the higher odds may simply be a function of two things: the fact that there are five of them and the presence of Clarence Thomas on the court. What do I mean by that?
Well, the average life expectancy for black men in this country is 70.8 years, well below the 76.2 years for white men. The average life expectancy for white women is 81.2 years. But those are only averages and the average for black men is undoubtedly dragged down by the relatively high number of black men who die young and the high poverty rate among blacks in general. I doubt the average life expectancy of highly affluent black men is much lower than that of highly affluent white men.
Only four justices on the court are more than 70 years old, two from the conservative side (Kennedy and Scalia, both 76) and two from the liberal side (Breyer, 74, and Ginsburg, 79. The next oldest is Thomas, who is 64. And of those four oldest justices, Ginsburg is the only one who has faced serious health problems (she beat pancreatic cancer, which is very rare, and colon cancer as well). So if you’re placing bets, the fact that she is the oldest and has faced cancer twice would suggest that she is the most likely to either die or retire due to health considerations.