Footnote Four

A collection of thoughts on Law and Politics and how small, seemingly unimportant things (like footnotes) can become large and important vehicles for historical transformation (like the infamous Footnote Four).

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Congratulations Justice Breyer!

With the confirmation of Justice Alito yesterday, I began to wonder about the new role he will play. I'm not talking about how he will vote, but how he will open the conference door. According to Supreme Court tradition, the most junior Associate Justice always opens the door when the Justices are in conference. During this meeting no one else is allowed into the room (no clerks or secretaries) and so someone is responsible for opening the door to receive messages as well as recording the votes.

I had always assumed that this was a fairly trivial position, but according to a book I was recently reading about Justice Blackmun, it is actually a pretty important role. He has written that the way the votes are tabulated is important and it also can be nervewracking to have to get up and answer the door during conference while you're trying to state your position or keep track of the multiple positions of the other justices.

The other interesting thing about this change is that Justice Breyer is no longer the most junior Justice (CJ Roberts never had to answer the door since he was immediately elevated to CJ), so he relinquishes the job to Justice Alito. He has held the position since 1994 and I wondered if that was a record. The Washington Post seems to have beaten me to this research and it turns out that Justice Story (who served from 1812-1845) held the position for just over one month longer than Justice Breyer. Congratulations Justice Breyer for FINALLY gaining some seniority and being able to relax a little more during conference.


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