Supreme Court Summer: An Oral History
Summer vacation at the Supreme Court of the United States runs from the end of June through early October. In that way, it’s kind of like the trimester system minus time off in the winter to ski. This summer the Justices stayed on campus.
Justice Kagan: Every summer, traditionally, we all went our separate ways. The nine of us. Justice Scalia would slice meat for his childhood deli. Justice Thomas would RV across Trumplandia. Justice Sotomayor would inspire the masses. Justice Kennedy would go to Europe to teach.
Justice Kennedy: I teach in Austria during the summers. Or I used to before Justice Scalia passed. The mountain air. The rosy-cheeked folk. Quite lovely. And their law students are so appreciative to be instructed by prestigious American judges. They love our law’s tapestry.
Justice Ginsburg: He’d walk into oral arguments and say, bon jour, guten tag, fraus. And then he’d apologize, forgive the Austrian. I was teaching there all summer.
Kennedy: I sometimes spoke Austrian, yes. It was hard not to, I’m afraid. That’s the extent to which I was immersed in the culture, the people.
Kagan: Austria doesn’t have its own language so it was some bastardization of German and French. We called it Germench behind his back.
Ginsburg: She did call it Germench. Justice Kagan’s sense of humor can be very, I think clowns are scarier than serial killers, so to speak.
Justice Sotomayor: As soon as Justice Scalia died, the Chief Justice made some changes. It was kind of nice, like he could finally be himself. He converted our conference room into a gym. He hired a social media manager. We hung around for the summer.
Jake, Supreme Court social media manager: The Chief found me on Etsy. I was selling my Girl Scout cookie flavored home brews. The Samoa stout is obviously the top seller but the Chief bought the Thin Mint lager, I think.
Justice Breyer: Jake is a delight. Remember the King’s Speech? He and I started a bromance like Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush’s characters, minus the stuttering. We did everything together. Spartan Races. Getting salads at Panera. Finding Throwback Thursday photos.
Chief Justice Roberts: Our social media efforts necessarily subside during the summer, so Jake became our event planner. Sort of like a day camp counselor.
Kagan: Camp SCOTUS.
Sotomayor: Justice Kagan, how to say this fairly. Her personality can be somewhat, OMG bacon. If that makes sense?
The Chief: I know this Court isn’t mine for much longer. I’ve read the blogs, the longform. I’m losing the majority, and with it my dream to narrow the Constitution’s prohibition of quartering troops. But damn it, the Roberts Court can at least be a fun place to work.
Justice Thomas: One Monday this summer, I’m expecting Justice Sotomayor. We have Lunch Club on Mondays where we choose a place off the Hill, far away, and we eviscerate our other colleagues. But then in walks Jake. I thought we were done with him until October, but here he is, explaining how today we’re teaching mindfulness to schoolchildren.
Justice Alito: We all met in the lobby. Justice Thomas’s chambers. He moved down there in the spring. The Chief is abating the building for asbestos after I got a cold and feared it was mesothelioma. We all have to take a turn down there, during the work safety improvements, but Justice Thomas volunteered to go first.
Thomas: Justice Alito was so confused. He flashed his ID badge at me like I was the fucking security guard.
Alito: Yes, I admit I initially didn’t recognize Justice Thomas in that context.
Kennedy: Justice Alito texted me that Jake had a “field trip” planned for us. Truthfully, I don’t know how he got my number. We rarely speak in real life but he texts me all the time.
Sotomayor: All his texts end in a period; it’s like chill.
The Chief: He considers me his best friend, and that’s fine. Justice Scalia, I hate to admit, left a big hole upon dying. Justice Alito was afraid to leave his chambers for the first two months without him. And Justice Ginsburg has been so withdrawn. Part of the reason I brought on Jake was to help us project unity to the other branches, to the American people. And then reflect that unity back onto each other.
Ginsburg: No one uses the phone as a phone anymore. Just as a hand computer. But Justice Scalia would call every morning. Usually to see how I was. Sometimes to ask me to pick him up a pack of cigarettes on the way in. Now that he’s gone, I walk into the Court quietly. I sneak past whoever’s been assigned to the lobby. But that one day, there’s fucking Jake, and everyone else. We’re going to teach stretching and breathing techniques to at-risk youth.
Kagan: I’ve done some gentle yoga before. It can get spiritual in there. So I say to the group, I think establishing religion is above our pay grade. I was half kidding but I was right.
Kennedy: It was the day I discovered female Justices are paid as much as I am. I always thought they made seventy cents to the dollar.
Breyer: And then Jake says, smirking, we’re not actually teaching mindfulness to children.
Ginsburg: I banned the use of ‘actually’ in my chambers but Jake isn’t my clerk, so.
Jake: The mindfulness thing was a ruse. I’ve only been here since April, and I’m still learning, but I know it’s always easier to get people to do stuff if it’s something they can bitch about together. In fact, that seems like the entire point of government?
Kagan: Can you imagine my colleagues teaching children mindfulness? Four of these guys need trigger warnings before the other four of us speculate about Malia Obama’s gap year plans. We’re ridiculous. So I knelt down and mocked a prayer of thanks we didn’t have to Namaste the kiddos.
Breyer: Do you know those t-shirts that are like, If I haven’t had my coffee yet, look out. You know. Unless you’re coffee, get away from me. I’m not describing them correctly, but that’s Justice Kagan. Not that she’s not a morning person. Just, like, she’d say that thing about the coffee, needing it in the morning. That’s her.
Jake: I turned the entire Supreme Court into one of those lock up rooms. I falsely accused the Justices of committing a minor drug offense, and challenged them to escape as I detained them indefinitely. I did one of these with my friends a few weeks earlier. You either work together and get out, or downward spiral and pick dumb fights with each other. With this group, who knows.
Sotomayor: He even read us our Miranda rights. It was cute.
Alito: I always thought that Miranda rights are sociopathy constitutionalized. Who would remain silent about something wrong they’ve done?
Kagan: I said, we’re all attorneys here. Can’t we talk to each other that way? Like the Chief can talk to me because I’m his attorney and then I can talk to Justice Ginsburg because she is mine? A giant game of telephone.
The Chief: Justice Kagan thought of the idea to play telephone. It was very clever. We only tripped up once when Justice Kennedy spoke Germench to his attorney, Justice Alito. But Justice Alito, no panic whatsoever, gestured that he couldn’t understand, and Justice Kennedy snapped out of it.
Kagan: The pantomime? Let’s just say I’ve finally met a clown I am not deathly afraid of and his name is Justice Alito. He was so calm! My expectations heading into the challenge were low, but wow, winning is better than bacon.
Ginsburg: We all enjoyed each other’s company, for once.
Alito: I felt validated.
Kagan: And no obnoxious bickering along partisan lines. I’ll credit my morning coffee for that one. Because otherwise, BYE.