STUMP » Articles » Supreme Court Mortality Projection Update! » 11 July 2018, 04:15

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

Supreme Court Mortality Projection Update!  


11 July 2018, 04:15

Look, we all have our hobbies.

I like calculating death probabilities.

Here are two prior posts on this specific subject:
Feb 2017: Mortality Monday: Supreme Court Probabilities

April 2017: Mortality Monday (with a little Trumpery): Supreme Court Probabilities Take 2

So now I’m updating my calculations given the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. I will assume he is seated on the court, and will do some projections.


I’m using the RP-2014 base tables, using the Top Quartile mortality for active employees, switching over to healthy retirees at age 81 (because the employee tables go up to only age 80…look, it’s not my fault that the SCOTUS folks don’t retire at reasonable ages). RP-2014 was developed from people participating in private pension plans… and I have reason to believe that mortality for government employees, especially justices with lifetime tenure guaranteed, is even better. But Top Quartile is the lowest mortality table I can grab that isn’t completely insane.

I’m using the justices age at their last birthday, not interpolating (and I may be wrong on some of their ages, because I’m not looking up their birthdays – I just incremented their ages by 1 year from the calculation last year) — and then you have to realize, mortality tables are from experience of specific groups of people. Look, going beyond 1 significant figure for such a small group of people is folly.

But I’ll do it anyway.

So I’m going to go through all the 2^9 possibilities (it’s only 512 combos); and I’m going to try the probabilities of them living to 2020 (so two more years), and then the probability of them living to 2024.


As per the last time, here are my results.

So the most likely outcome in the next two years is nobody dies… at about 80% probability.

Which means about 20% probability that at least one of the justices die.

I’m going to be blunt. People are going on about Ruth Bader Ginsburg retiring/not retiring, but she is far and away the oldest Supreme Court Justice.


She is currently 85 years old.

Thurgood Marshall managed to hang on til 84 years old. Rehnquist was only 80 when he died.

Ok, it looks like Harry Blackmun retired when he was 85, so it’s about a tie.

RBG could still have many years ahead of her, and one of the younguns could pop off first.

But you need to be realistic about probabilities once one is 85.

Because it’s a bit more brutal to consider if Trump gets a second term:

Better than a 50% chance.


Let’s be blunt again. There will be 5 conservative members, and 4 liberal members of SCOTUS once Kavanaugh is confirmed. (if there’s a squish remaining, it may be Roberts and/or Kagan, which is an interesting result)

So let’s see how the probabilities shake out for the 2-year situation:

So, again, the most likely outcome is no deaths.

But the second most likely is 1 of the liberals popping off (sorry, I didn’t change the NC = non-conservative, label). That’s about 15%, which is a decent probability to any gambler.

And if Trump gets a second term….

Chances are better that one or two of the “nonconservatives” die, than that nobody does.

Again, primarily driven by RBG’s high age.


All that said, it is extremely difficult to get a good handle on probabilities of outcomes when you have only 9 people you’re looking at.

If it were thousands… no problem!

Ah, the magic of the Central Limit Theorem.

So don’t blow these particular probabilities out of proportion. The probability of dying at age 38 is very low for the population as a whole; for my dad, it turned out to be 1 (yes, don’t get me on the philosophy of probability).

There are plenty of supercentenarians, too.

Anyway, I just like to calculate death probabilities.

RELATED: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Encased In Carbonite Until Next Court Session

“People do not need to worry about Justice Ginsburg,” said law carbon-freezing technician Clint Simon. “While she is 85, she’s very fit for her age. Also, she’s now hibernating in a nearly indestructible metal shell.”

Ginsburg’s legal aides assured the press that carbonite-freezing is very common for someone her age and should keep her safe and perfectly preserved until she is needed again. As soon as there is another court session, they’ll unfreeze her, and after a brief bout of hibernation sickness, she’ll be back to hearing cases and delivering opinions.

“It’s a foolproof way to keep her safe and sound,” said legal aide Angela Patterson, though she did admit they had accidentally lost Ginsburg in a shipping error. They now know where she is, though — on display in the parlor of a crime lord — and say they will have her back by the next Supreme Court term in October.

Sounds like a plan!

Related Posts
A Tale of Know Your Data: The Mystery of the Excess Connecticut Summer Deaths
Mortality with Meep: Estimated U.S. Total Deaths for 2020, All Causes
Deaths in the Dominican Republic: Westchester Woman Dies