STUMP » Articles » Mortality Monday (with a little Trumpery): Supreme Court Probabilities Take 2 » 10 April 2017, 23:43

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


10 April 2017, 23:43

Back in February, I did a quick calculation estimating that Trump had an approximately 50% chance of replacing at least one of the 5 non-conservative Justices on the Supreme Court before we ran into trouble in 2020.

Today, Gorsuch was sworn in, and along with the Gorsuch confirmation came a different prediction.

Source: Trump ‘expects’ four more Supreme Court picks

President Trump believes that he will have the opportunity to pack the Supreme Court with five judges, making him only the seventh president to appoint a majority and potentially cementing his legacy and that of the conservative court well past 2055.

Buoyed by the Senate’s expected confirmation today of Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia, Trump has told associates that he fully expects to name four more justices.

“He expects to name five to the court,” said one of those associates.

It’s not a radical idea.

A new report on the court reveals that the average age of justices who leave the court is 79. Scalia was 79 when he died.

By the end of Trump’s first term, three will have crossed that line, Anthony Kennedy, who will be 83, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who will be 86, and Stephen Breyer, who will be 81. The next oldest is Clarence Thomas, who will be 71.

And a new report done by an insurance actuarial suggested that younger court picks will be named by Trump and future presidents and that those justices will serve for 35 years or longer, meaning that the Trump court could last well past 2055.

Insurance actuarial?! COME ON.

This is the paper by David Fishbaum, who is indeed a life insurance actuary. David did a Monte Carlo projection, susing a 2012 IAM table with Projection Scale G2 — and he simulated ages of the appointees, sex, and tenure. I’m going to do something different below.


I found the average tenure of Justices at Bloomberg:

Eighty Is the New 70 as Supreme Court
Justices Serve Longer and Longer

Since World War II, the average age when a judge leaves the court, either through retirement or death, has been increasing. With two current justices more than 80 years old and a third joining them next year, the projected age when a justice will leave the Supreme Court is now about 83—that’s a 10-year increase from the 1950s.

Check out this nifty graph:

Here’s the data! WOO!

But I will put that aside for right now.

Because, this is Mortality Monday, and I’m all about death.


Last time, I just looked at the 5 non-conservatives, so now I’m going to look at all 9 (including Gorsuch).

And I’m going to use a “better” mortality table: RP-2014 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).

Yes, I could use the MP-2016 generational scale to project even further, but no. And I’m just doing Age Last Birthday. I’m definitely not going to do the David Fishbaum simulation approach where I consider the mortality (or retirement) of subsequent appointees. This is enough work as it is.

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

Now the filibuster issue may be currently dead (=cough=), so they really need to live to 2021 and/or 2025. Let’s leave that be.

Here are my results for number of deaths in the 3-year period:

And results for number of deaths in the 7-year period:

If you want the distribution split out by conservative/not conservative, here are heat maps.

Three years:

Seven years:

So, with this new mortality table, which is very low mortality (coming from private DB pensions experience, and is the top quartile longevity, using active employee mortality over retiree mortality where available. So I made mortality as reasonably low as possible) — the most likely outcome are no Justice deaths in the next 3 years…but stretch it to 7 years, and it’s very likely to have at least one death.


Of course, I’m just using mortality. Most will not hang on til death, or at least the conservatives won’t.

I could see Clarence Thomas thinking it’s time to pack it in. With a nominee like Gorsuch, and Mitch McConnell holding the line on process, he may be happy to leave to enjoy their retirements. I have lumped Kennedy in with the non-conservatives, but he may be happy with Gorsuch-like appointees as well. I dunno.

And then, perhaps we’ll see a change in how federal judges and Supreme Court Justices serve. I like this idea of 9-year terms, with a possible re-election. Go read the whole thing.

But eh, we’ll see.

Spreadsheet here.

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