Our judicial branch is big news this week. DOMA was struck a crippling blow, the Voting Rights Act was muzzled, and George Zimmerman is finally facing trial for the killing of Trayvon Martin. With all of these water-cooler conversations about the courts, it is good practice to be knowledgeable about them.
So in that spirit, let's look over some interesting trivia tidbits about our highest court that you can use to impress your family and friends.
1. A Very Honorable Entrance
During every entry procession for the justices for over 200 years, the marshal of the court has called out the same call to order, based on the old Anglo-Norman term meaning "hear ye."
"Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business before the honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the court is now sitting. God save the United States and this honorable court."
What a mouthful. Imagine saying that every time your boss came into the room.
2. Why American Judges Don't Wear Wigs
Thomas Jefferson hated wigs. He hated them so much, that when one of the Supreme Court justices (Justice William Cushing) showed up in 1790 wearing one, Jefferson had some choice words to say on the matter.
"If we must have peculiar garbs for the judges, I think the gown is the most appropriate. But, for heaven's sake, discard the monstrous wig, which makes the English judges look like rats peeping through bunches of oakum."
They just don't make insults like they used to. To save you the Wikipedia trip, oakum is a fibrous ropey material used for caulking. No justice ever showed up to the court in a wig again.
3. A Decade Of Hazing
When you are appointed to the Supreme Court, you may think you have a pretty sweet gig: Lifelong appointment without elections, nearly a quarter-million-dollar salary, the most prestigious judgeship in the country, and enough potential power to satisfy most megalomaniacs. But guess what? You are also now the new guy on the bench, and with that comes the honor of holding a special place in the court. That's right, you're responsible for taking notes, answering the phone, getting coffee, and opening the doors. You're basically an intern again.
It's not that bad. How long could it be until another person is appointed? Well, for Justice Stephen Breyer, it was 10 years, until he was in his late 60s.
4. Small Beginnings
Sure, the Constitution gave the Supreme Court the highest judicial post in the land, but it didn't give it much else. Most of what we now take for granted about the court was established through precedent and massive power plays by the chief justices.
For example, in the first 1790 term of the Supreme Court, the court had no docket, made no decisions, and had no courtroom. Congress very gracefully lent them a small room in the Capitol basement, once Washington D.C. was built. Don't worry, though, it was only a temporary measure — until the Civil War.
5. Two Out Of Three Branches of Government: Not Bad
Most people know President Taft. You know, the fat one, who got stuck in a bathtub in the White House? He also divided the Republican Party, forming the first real conservative Republican presidency, and handed Wilson the presidency in 1912, but, you know, (teeheehee) he was fat.
Taft also holds the distinction of being the only person to ever be both president and a Supreme Court justice. In fact, he was Chief Justice starting in 1921 almost until to his death. That is a solid resume.
6. Short-Changed On Currency
Our currency has honored many people: Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, Franklin, and Hamilton, for example. That prestigious group has a lot of presidents, some Founding Fathers, and a secretary or two. Only two Supreme Court Justices have ever been on U.S. currency, however, and neither are still in circulation.
Justice Salmon P. Chase was on the massive $10,000 bill, and Justice John Marshall graced the $500 bill. Now, however, all of those larger denomination bills have been discontinued, and no justices can be found on any of our currency.