The Four Justices


In 1880, Belva Lockwood became the first woman to argue before the Supreme Court. Distinguished jurist Florence Allen was considered for the Supreme Court in the 1940s, but opposition, including from the sitting justices, precluded her nomination. It was not until 1981 that Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to serve as a Supreme Court justice. Over ten years later, in 1993, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was nominated by President Clinton. Ginsburg served alongside Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, who were nominated to the Supreme Court in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

Ian and Annette Cummings commissioned this portrait to recognize the accomplishments of all four justices. Justice O’Connor’s office arranged their busy schedules so that they could pose at the same time for Nelson Shanks and his camera. The artist drew on the traditions of Dutch group portraiture, and the setting is based on interiors and a courtyard within the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C.


To celebrate the portrait's arrival at the Portrait Gallery in 2013, video journalist Jan Smith sat down with each of the four justices and asked them to tell their own story. 

Clockwise from left: Sandra Day O’Connor (born 1930); Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933–2020); Elena Kagan (born 1960); and Sonia Sotomayor (born 1954)

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Justice Elena Kagan


four women justices arranged around a couch
The Four Justices by Nelson Shanks (1937–2015) / Oil on canvas, 2012 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; Gift of Ian M. and Annette P. Cumming