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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Inside The New Supreme Court Tradition: The Social Life

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As the United States Supreme Court gears up for its last term before the Donald Trump era begins, its most unusual mix of justices returns to work — as do the traditions and friendships that developed over 18 years.

The nine justices of the Supreme Court have recently helped craft the rules governing the private parties that court allows, meeting in chambers to write new laws based on the day’s oral arguments. Justices can barely make eye contact while reading through a dense issue paper, but at oral arguments they often indulge in a round of chit-chat in a patio off the courtroom.

The justices tend to make quick remarks to each other, striking up conversations while waiting to enter chambers for oral arguments. Often, their talk leads to questions, which prompts more questions and often leads to barbs at the previous speaker.

And then there is the extensive social life that only Supreme Court justices can afford. There is not enough time or money for justices to become familiar with competing social events. Because only nine justices are in chambers when oral arguments begin, and oral arguments can last well over an hour, justices must mingle.

Most important of all is the closest connection of any federal judge — the fact that they live in each other’s legal circles.

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