On Monday, Neil Gorsuch was sworn in as the 113th Justice of the United States Supreme Court. He took the oath during a small White House ceremony in which Justice Anthony Kennedy administered the oath to his former clerk.
It was an unequivocal triumph for the Right. Gorsuch is a bonafide rock star among legal conservatives, many of whom thought the Supreme Court would take a significant lurch to the Left when Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly with 11 months left in President Obama’s term. It’s not hard to see why the Federalist Society, American Enterprise Institute, and, really, the whole conservative movement is walking around with a grin on its face this week.
At least one liberal will be smiling this week too: Justice Elena Kagan.
Justice Kagan was appointed to the Court by President Obama in 2010, and has been the most junior Justice since. That status comes with some added responsibilities on top of making important decisions and drafting legal opinions that will be studied for centuries to come.
We know this based on an interview Justice Kagan gave to the newest Justice, Neil Gorsuch, during an event in Colorado last September.
According to the Washington Post, Kagan listed three jobs the most junior Justice is required to complete.
First she explained how she is responsible for organizing lunch on days the Justices eat together during oral argument.
“Somebody will say, ‘Who’s our representative to the cafeteria committee again?’ Like they don’t know, right? And then they’ll say, ‘This soup is very salty.’ And I’m like supposed to go fix it myself?”
Kagan is also required to take notes when the Justices convene to decide cases. Meeting alone in a conference room, no clerks, stenogrpahers, or staff are allowed. The Justices speak in order of seniority, with the junior Justice speaking last. This gives Justice Kagan plenty of time to take notes on what the other eight Justices have to say.
“It’s another event at which seniority rules. The chief justice speaks first, and then each justice speaks in order of longevity on the court. The junior justice speaks last and takes notes of the proceeding.”
Lastly, and most importantly according to Justice Kagan, she answers the door. When the Justices are meeting to determine which cases to hear, or how they will vote, the nine Justices meet to themselves in a conference room. When the occasional knock on the door comes from a law clerk, it is the junior Justice who must answer the door.
Kagan said there are no exceptions to the rule of who answers the door. “Literally, if I’m like in the middle of a sentence–let’s say it’s my turn to speak or something–and there’s a knock on the door, everybody will just stare at me, waiting for me to open the door,” Kagan said. “It’s like a form of hazing. So, that’s what I do, I open the door. Pronto.”
Justice Kagan seems to be a good sport. “I think this is a way to kind of humble people,” Kagan told Gorsuch, adding that getting confirmed to the Supreme Court can give one an inflated opinion of his or her status.
Fortunately for Justice Kagan, her nearly seven years as serving as the most junior Justice is finally coming to an end.
Conservatives, including Neil Gorsuch, should hope that his term as junior Justice will not be quite so long.