[Puzzleblogger Kevan Choset, July 12, 2005 at 10:56am] Trackbacks
Putting Accuracy in Jeopardy!

Last Wednesday's Final Jeopardy! category was "People in Government." The clue was (and this is verbatim):

Now in his job over 17 years, he's the longest-serving pres. appointee other than Supreme Court members

(Alex Trebek read "pres." as "presidential.") To see the "correct" response, which one contestant successfully provided, click below:


Unfortunately, this is gravely incorrect. Of course the President appoints all federal judges, not just Supreme Court Justices. A quick search turned up 138 sitting federal judges (not including Supreme Court members) who were appointed more than 17 years ago.

My questions (to which I don't know the answers) are as follows:

  1. Who is the longest-serving currently sitting federal judge?

  2. Can we be confident that this person is the longest-serving presidential appointee? If not, who is? Is there a reasonably compact list of all people (or positions) that are appointed by the President?

[While Jeopardy! has been known to bring back losing contestants because of an inaccurate clue, it happens that Final Jeopardy! did not matter in this game because the winner had more than twice the money of his nearest competitor. I emailed Jeopardy! about the mistake on Friday and have yet to hear back.]

Brian G (mail) (www):
Joseph W. Woodrough served a record 61 years as a federal judge. He served on the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska from 1916 to 1933 and on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit from 1933 until 1977. He took senior status in 1961, and was serving as a senior judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit when he died at the age of 104 on October 2, 1977.

See this site:
7.12.2005 12:13pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
And here is the entire list:

The longest-serving are: (name/nominated by/date took seat/where)

Manuel Real, Johnson, 11/3/1966, California district
Charles L. Brieant, Nixon, 7/29/1971, New York district
William Rehnquist, Nixon, 12/10/1971, Supreme Court
Joseph L. Tauro, Nixon, 10/17/1972, Massachusetts district
Emory H. Widener Jr., Nixon, 10/17/1972, Fourth Circuit
Allen Sharp, Nixon, 10/4/1973, Indiana district

Side-note that only interests me: The seond-longest serving judge, Charles L. Brieant, took his seat the day I was born.
7.12.2005 12:17pm
Nick (www):
What about ambassadors? There are some I'm sure who have served for a long time to certain unimportant countries.
7.12.2005 12:22pm
A. Nonymous (mail):
The Federal Judicial Center has the authoritative bio database of Federal Judges

According to a search asking for sitting judges (including senior judges) it is Charles Miller Metzner current sitting SDNY as a senior judge. Nominated by Dwight D. Eisenhower on April 15, 1959, to a seat vacated by John W. Clancy; Confirmed by the Senate on September 9, 1959, and received commission on September 10, 1959. Assumed senior status on September 30, 1977.

The Federal Judicial Center also has a page dedicated to landmark judges. Brian G's citation of Woodrough is mentioned as well as some others under "Longest Serving Judges"
7.12.2005 12:24pm
Justin (mail):
I'm notr sure if FIrst Deputy Solictor General is an appointed position, but if so, Daniel Friedman has been a Presidential Appointee of some kind since 1968 (enough for 2nd place). If Second Assistant to the Solicitor General is a presidential appointee, the date goes back to 1962, and if assistant to the Solicitor General is a presidential appointee, the date goes back to 1959.

The question says nothing about "in one job"
7.12.2005 12:38pm
Happy Fun Lawyer (www):
Judge Metzner, who took senior status in 1977, has been fully retired since 2000. (See
7.12.2005 12:45pm
Proud Generation Y Slacker:
Over 10 years ago, there was, "This is Italy's easternmost port." They didn't notice that Italy runs pretty much NW-SE, not due N-S.
7.12.2005 12:59pm
I am pretty sure it is James Browning, senior judge on the Ninth Circuit. Kennedy appointed him in 1961. He took senior status in 2000.
7.12.2005 1:24pm
Keep in mind that many, if not most, of POTUS's nominees are not Senate confirmed.

Brookings sets the number of positions requiring appointment at 504. Here is completely uncomprehensive list of positions requiring appointment (and confirmation). (Federal Departments) (Independent Agencies)

The list of all nominees is much larger and constantly in flux. It seems entirely possible that there is some Ike or JFK appointee still floating around the federal government.
7.12.2005 1:43pm
Cheburashka (mail):
Is this a puzzle blog or a trivia blog?
7.12.2005 1:47pm
Malibu Drew (mail):
For the longest serving presidential appointee, you might want to look outside the judiciary to the military. Weiss v. United States, 510 U.S. 163, 170, 170 n.5 (1994) ("[T]he Appointments Clause applies to military officers...10 U.S.C. ยง 624 requires a new appointment by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, each time a commissioned officer is promoted to a higher grade--e.g., if a captain is promoted to major, he must receive another appointment.
"). I don't know squat about the military, but I'm guessing that there might be some officer who has been serving since before November 1966.
7.12.2005 3:37pm
actually, Justice Stevens is the longest-serving member on the Supreme Court, if you count back to his tenure on the 7th Circuit. He's been an Article III Judge since October 14, 1970.
7.12.2005 4:09pm
Judge Hand in Mobile, Alabama received his commission on 9/22/1971, so he should be added to the list above.
7.12.2005 5:30pm
JRH (mail):
The longest-serving current (i.e., not retired or dead) federal judge is S. Hugh Dillin of the Southern District of Indiana, who was appointed by JFK and received his commission in 1961.

It seems relatively likely that the answer is probably a judge and not a military officer, since any military officer serving continuously since sometime before 1961 would have to be around 70 years old.
7.12.2005 5:44pm
Scott Moss (mail) (www):
To the above list of 60s appointees, add Constance Baker Motley (S.D.N.Y.), the first black female federal judge, appointed in 1966 (and the one for whom I clerked).
7.12.2005 9:00pm
Admiral Hyman G. Rickover of nuclear-propulsion fame was a serving Naval officer from 1922 to 1982 (he was born in 1900 and during the later years of his service Congress exempted him from mandatory retirement). He was at Annapolis for four years before 1922... were/are midshipmen nominated by the president? I think 60 (64?) years in harness would put Rickover in the top-few.

(You may wish to contrast the view of Rickover in his official short biography:

Navy Bio

with the picture drawn by this essay:

7.13.2005 8:00pm
[mysterious cut-off...

with the picture drawn by this essay:

AirPower review/essay

reviewing a longer bio.)
7.13.2005 8:01pm