After 17 years as a federal judge, Sotomayor knows her way around a courthouse. But her new workplace is filled with quirky customs and rituals and questions about how to fit in. When do you speak up? How do you find your way around a building torn apart by renovation? If someone knocks at the door while the justices are meeting in their private conference room, who answers? (Note to the new kid: You do.)
For all the groundbreaking nature of her nomination, the most significant demographic fact about Sotomayor now is that she is the junior justice. She'll be responsible for taking notes on what the justices decide at those private meetings and reporting the decisions accurately to the court clerk. Sotomayor also will go last when justices take initial votes. "You don't necessarily want to break the china when you start out," says a former clerk to Clarence Thomas.