Elena Kagan: How the Supreme Court 'Hazes' New Justices
The liberal Justice also talks about her surprising hunting trips with conservative Antonin Scalia
A job for life on the United States Supreme Court is “a great gig” – but has its downsides for the new kid on the bench, says Justice Elena Kagan, a newbie for four years now.
“They hazed me, this is true,” Kagan joked Thursday of the eight high court justices with more seniority. Though Kagan, 54, joined the court in 2010, there have been no newer vacancies for President Obama to fill, so she’s been stuck with a nickname she can’t shake.
“Everybody refers to the Junior Justice as ‘The Junior Justice,’ ” Kagan said in a talk at Princeton University, her alma mater, that lifted the curtain on some of the mysterious inner workings of the nation’s highest court.
Laughing, Kagan explained the jobs that come with lack of seniority: head of cafeteria committee and note-taker/door-opener during the Justices-only deliberations.
“It’s not a very good cafeteria, so this is really just the opportunity they have to kind of haze you all the time. Like, ‘Argh, you know, Elena, this food isn’t very good.’ ”
As for her chores in those closed-door conferences, Kagan said: “I take notes as the Junior Justice and answer the door when there’s a knock. Literally, if there’s a knock on the door and I don’t hear it, there will not be a single other person who will move. They’ll all just stare at me.”
“You might ask, Who comes to the door? Well, it’s knock, knock, ‘Justice X forgot his glasses.’ And knock, knock, ‘Justice Y forgot her coffee.’ There I am hopping up and down. That’s a form of hazing, right?”
Kagan, an Ivy League-educated N.Y.C. native who is considered a reliably liberal vote on the court, also revealed how she and conservative Justice Antonin Scalia became the most unlikely of hunting buddies.
During her confirmation process, so many senators trying to discern her position on the Second Amendment would ask, “Do you hunt?” that Kagan finally promised one senator from Idaho: “If I’m lucky enough to be confirmed, I’ll ask my colleague, Justice Scalia, to take me hunting. Because, you know, I grew up in New York, I didn’t have this experience, but I understand why this matters to you.”
Scalia obliged, starting with skeet shooting, Kagan said. “Then we went on to the real thing.” The duo go on hunting trips a couple of times of year for quail and pheasant and, next month, will hit Mississippi for some duck.
“I do like it,” Kagan admitted, boasting that she shot a deer on one trip to Wyoming with Scalia. “I’m a competitive person. You know, you put a gun in my hand and say the object is to shoot something, I’m like, ‘All right! Let’s do it!’ ”