Ahead for Gorsuch: Low Man on the SCOTUS Totem Pole

Life for newest justice mixes a bit of humble pie and 'hazing,' Elena Kagan says
By Linda Hervieux,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 10, 2017 7:30 AM CDT
Ahead for Gorsuch: Low Man on the SCOTUS Totem Pole
Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan gave newbie Neil Gorsuch a lesson in what it means to be a new justice.   (Kelly Presnell/Arizona Daily Star via AP)

What's it like to be the Supreme Court's most junior member? Neil Gorsuch, who will be sworn in on Monday, got the lowdown from Elena Kagan, the justice currently occupying that seat. And it really is a seat: As Kagan explained at a Colorado event last summer, the high court hierarchy all comes down to seniority, even the arrangement of the justices' chairs. The Washington Post reports that Kagan told her soon-to-be colleague—months before he was even nominated—that the newbie's first job is heading up the cafeteria committee, "where literally the agenda is what happened to the good recipe for the chocolate chip cookies." It's a sobering comedown after the high of securing a slot on the nation's highest court. "I think this is a way to kind of humble people," said Kagan, who has been the low woman on the totem pole since 2010. "You think you’re kind of hot stuff. You’re an important person."

And then you find out it's your job to install a frozen yogurt machine, and jump when anyone knocks on the doors to the justices' "inner sanctum" conference room. "It’s like a form of hazing," Kagan said. "So, that’s what I do, I open the door. Pronto." Kagan and Gorsuch, both known as clever writers, bantered a bit about that topic, the Post notes. Kagan admitted she'll reread past legal opinions sometimes and conclude "Yeah, it's all right," while Gorsuch said, "Oh, I can't read anything I've written." The duo's opportunities to chat in the future might be limited by their new seating arrangement: Kagan, 56, sits on the far left of the bench, while Gorsuch, 49, will take his place on the far right. (Female Supreme Court justices are interrupted much more than their male counterparts.)

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