06.26.12

11 Wacky Supreme Court Facts: Frozen-Yogurt Justice, Scalia and Ginsburg Friendship, & More

There’s so much more to the high court than their rulings. From the Scalia and Ginsburg opera dates to Breyer’s poor coffee pouring skills, read about the storylines that could dominate Supreme Court TV.

It’s not all heavy rulings on immigrationjuvenile sentences, and the upcoming health-care opinion, there’s also some personality underneath those robes. From Elena Kagan’s nickname as the “frozen-yogurt justice” to the white quill pens the court receives daily, here are 11 things you didn’t know about the court of the last resort.

1. The court has its own police force: the Supreme Court police. The force includes 125 officers and seven distinct units, which work together to maintain order and keep the Justices’ wild parties from getting too out of hand. Take note, Secret Service.

2. Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, though they differ in their judicial opinions, are good friends and often go to the opera together. The two even appeared onstage as party guests in Ariadne auf Naxos. Perhaps this could be the beginning of secondary careers as opera stars?

3. Justice Elena Kagan is responsible for the installation of the first frozen- yogurt machine in the Supreme Court cafeteria. She claims she will be remembered as the “frozen-yogurt justice” for bringing the traditionalist canteen into the 21st century.

4. The late chief justice William Rehnquist, inspired by a production of Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta Iolanthe, wore four gold stripes on each sleeve of his robe.

5. The top floor of the Supreme Court building houses a gym, including a basketball court dubbed "the highest court in the land." Chief Justice John Roberts probably has a killer hook shot.

6. Until the Supreme Court building was finished in 1935, the court was migratory, meeting in various rooms throughout the Capitol or even in taverns and private homes when construction forced them out. No word on whether the taverns offered a Supreme Court special during the term.

7. Each day the court is in session, white quill pens are placed on the counsel desks. This tradition dates back to the early days of the court. Recipients often take the quills home as souvenirs, since the pens aren’t actually used in court.

8. There are about 10,000 cases on the Supreme Court's docket per term, of which the court delivers opinions on only about 80 to 90. After all, the justices only have so much time to contemplate heavy ethical issues before needing a frozen-yogurt break.

9. The chief justices John Marshall and Salmon P. Chase are the only justices to have appeared on U.S. currency—they were on the now-obsolete $500 and $10,000 bills, respectively. Isn’t the judiciary supposed to be the most valuable part of government?

10. A study of the 2004 Supreme Court term revealed that Scalia is the funniest of the justices, triggering 77 rounds of laughter in the term, or about one per argument. According to the study, this makes him a whopping 19 times funnier than his buddy Ginsburg.

11.  The most recent appointee to the court is in charge of taking notes, answering phones, opening the door, and pouring coffee for his or her colleagues. Toward the end of Justice Stephen Breyer’s ten-year run as coffee server, he asked Scalia, “I’ve gotten pretty good at this, haven’t I?” Scalia replied, “No, you haven’t.” Yikes. Hopefully Kagan’s pouring skills are better than Breyer’s.