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Old US Supreme Court opinions—eg, here—follow the English and (some) Commonwealth practice of prefacing the title of the justice with 'Mr.'. When and why did this, and only this usage, cease (given that the US still uses, for example, the titles Madam Speaker and Mr. President)? Were there state supreme courts which retained the traditional styling for longer or abolished it earlier?

Was it with the appointment of Justice O'Connor, or was she ever, if even for a brief period, referred to as Madam or Ms. Justice O'Connor in the official reports?

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  • I can't give you a date, but it is much older than Justice O'Connor. I can't think of any post-U.S. Civil War opinions that I've ever read with the older form, and I suspect that the title "Justice" rather than "Mr." may be older than that. I'd guess 1820-1850ish but that's more intuition than proof.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Apr 27, 2021 at 20:31
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    @ohwilleke it seems to have changed more than once. Roe v. Wade, Miranda v. Arizona, and Bivens all have "Mr.," while Brown v. Board of Education does not (based on a quick scan of some online texts).
    – phoog
    Commented Apr 28, 2021 at 17:12

2 Answers 2

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According to the Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (OUP, 1992), p. 1153:

The titles affixed to the names of the Justices have changed over time. Traditionally a justice's title had been "Mr. Justice", as in "Mr. Justice Blackmun." In November 1980, however, the justices dropped the prefix and began signing their opinions simply "Justice Blackmun". When orally addressing a member of the Court, one refers to the justice as simply "Justice Blackmun," but one still addresses the chief justice as Mr. Chief Justice."

For reference, Justice O'Connor was appointed in 1981.

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Sandra Day O'Connor was appointed shortly after the court stopped using that form, and it was in anticipation of the appointment of a woman, although nobody knew which woman or when it would happen.

Running for president in 1980 against the incumbent Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan made a campaign promise to appoint a woman to the supreme court. Such an appointment was unprecedented. Reagan was elected in November. The court made no announcement that it was changing its practice; it simply changed it just after the election, in opinions where it referred to "Justice XYZ" rather than to "Mr. Justice XYZ."

In June 1981 Potter Stewart announced his retirement from the court, and in July Reagan appointed Sandra Day O'Connor.

So she was not appointed until after the practice had changed.

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