15 Things You Didn’t Know About the Supreme Court
The appointment of a new Supreme Court justice always brings the highest court of the land into the spotlight whether it’s controversial or not. There’s a national public interest in these SCOTUS justices for some very good reasons. First, an appointment lasts for life, or when the person decides to retire. Also, they’re deciding on some of the most contentious, important court cases in the country.
Did you fall asleep in government class? No worries. Read on to discover all the fascinating things you never knew about the Supreme Court.
1. There are literally no job qualifications
Think you have to serve as a judge before being appointed to the Supreme Court? Think again. Unlike the office of the presidency, there are no age, education, citizenship, or job experience requirements for appointment to the Supreme Court. You don’t even need to be a law school graduate.
Of course, the appointment probably won’t be accepted if the person is underqualified. But legally, it could be.
Next: Some cases are less serious than others.
2. Not all Supreme Court cases are serious
Plessy v. Furguson, Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade… plenty of landmark Supreme Court cases have changed the fabric of our nation. But not every Supreme Court case is that monumental.
For example, in the case Nix v. Hedden, the Supreme Court classified tomatoes and pickles as “fruit of the vine” rather than allowing the debate to continue over whether these food items were technically fruits or vegetables. And now you know.
Next: SCOTUS used to meet at this unlikely type of location.
3. They used to convene at bars
While they were constructing what later became the Supreme Court Room in 1809, the members of the Supreme Court had to come up with another venue. But instead of finding a benign meeting room or someone’s formal living room, the justices chose to have meetings at Long’s Tavern in Washington D.C. From 1815-1816, they met at Bell’s Tavern.
Next: Not many women get appointed.
4. Women justices are in the minority
The Supreme Court was established in 1789, but even though it’s been around for a long time, only 112 justices have served on it. Four of those 112 were women and one person, Sonia Sotomayor, is both a woman and the first ever Latino Supreme Court justice. Only two have been African American and eight have been Jewish.
Next: One female justice fought hard for this tasty perk.
5. They have a frozen yogurt machine
Elena Kagan is one of just four women appointed as a Supreme Court justice. But her contributions go beyond just breaking the status quo of gender – she’s also responsible for getting a frozen yogurt machine installed in the building.
During her first year serving on the court, Kagan joined the cafeteria committee and made it her singlehanded mission to get the fro-yo machine put in. Good news for everyone: she succeeded.
Next: A very small percentage of cases get decided.
6. Not many cases receive decisions
In any given year, between 8,000 and 10,000 cases are added to the Supreme Court docket. But it would be impossible to address them all. That’s why a very small percentage of those requests – usually just 75 to 85 cases, or about 1% — are accepted.
Next: It’s obvious that Supreme Court justices are smart.
7. Supreme Court justices are some of the smartest people around
If you were to serve on the Supreme Court today, it’s likely that you graduated from an Ivy League college. Of the 9 current Supreme Court justices, four graduated from Harvard University, three came from Yale University, and one graduated from Columbia University.
Next: You can tell their status by where they sit.
8. There’s a method to how they sit
It’s not as if the justices play musical chairs while they’re up on the bench. All of the Supreme Court justices sit in order of seniority, with the chief justice taking the place of honor in the center and the senior associate justice on his or her right. The second in seniority sits to the left and the rest alternate right and left based on their level of seniority.
The above photo was taken just after the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia. The black wool crepe is draped over his seat as a sign of respect.
Next: The court is steeped in tradition.
9. Traditions don’t change much
The court location may have moved (it started in New York City and then to Philadelphia before reaching the permanent location of Washington), but most of the traditions on the Supreme Court remain the same. The justices have always worn black robes and placed quill pens on the counsels’ desk when court is in session, even way back in 1789.
Next: This is the surprising thing about keeping up with court cases.
10. You can’t watch court cases on television
Television may have been invented in 1927, but that doesn’t mean it’s affected the Supreme Court very much. The first televised Supreme Court swearing-in was that of Sonia Sotomayor in 2009. To this day, Supreme Court hearings are never put on television.
Next: There’s a basketball court.
11. Yes, they have a basketball court
The highest court in the land has a room devoted to the other kind of “highest court in the land.” The Supreme Court Building includes a regulation-sized basketball court on the top floor, which is where justices have kicked back and practiced shooting hoops since 1940. They frequently square off with opponents from the cafeteria, police force, and clerk’s office.
Next: There’s only one person who served as president and Supreme Court justice.
12. Only one President also served as a Supreme Court Justice
Becoming a Supreme Court justice and serving as the president isn’t impossible – but it is unlikely. In the entire history of the court, only William Howard Taft has successfully risen to both offices. He served as chief justice from 1921 to 1930 and as president from 1909 to 1913.
Next: Blame the lack of wigs on this man.
13. One man did away with those crazy wigs
Picture a high court of law from 200 years ago and no doubt you’ll envision elaborate powdered wigs. The Supreme Court may still have the same if not for one man: Thomas Jefferson. He fought hard against the concept of Supreme Court justices donning wigs because he thought it made them look British, which was a huge affront to TJ.
Next: Their faces used to be on money.
14. Supreme Court justices were once featured on U.S. currency
It was the summer of 1969 when the United States stopped producing $10,000, $5,000, $1,000 and $500 bills. One thing you may not realize? The $10,000 bill features a photo of Salmon P. Chase, a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court appointed by President Lincoln. A $500 bill includes a portrait of John Marshall, one of the most well-known Chief Justices to serve.
John Marshall also appeared on a stamp.
Next: They have serious security.
15. They have their own police force
Unsurprisingly, Supreme Court justices have plenty of enemies. But enough to warrant their own police force? Yes, it’s true.
Their security force, known as the Supreme Court Police, protect the building and grounds along with the justices themselves. They receive extensive training for the role at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia.