On Monday, Neil Gorsuch will be sworn in as the Supreme Court's latest associate justice. His confirmation was a big win for conservatives, who universally applauded his nomination, and by assuming the seat once held by Antonin Scalia, he'll have enormous power to shape U.S. policy, possibly for decades to come. But what is it actually like to be the newest member of the highest court in the land? As the court's junior justice, Gorsuch will have to do some weird things, according to current junior justice Elena Kagan.
In 2016, Kagan was interviewed about her experience serving on the court. This was at an event in Colorado, and the interviewer was — plot twist — Gorsuch himself. Gorsuch, surely out of mere curiosity, asked Kagan what it's like to be the most junior justice on the bench, and Kagan explained that the newest justice has three special responsibilities: Meal picker, note taker, and door opener.
According to Kagan, the junior justice is assigned to serve on the cafeteria committee, which plans and oversees the various meals that justices eat while meeting for oral arguments.
"I think this is a way to kind of humble people," Kagan said at the event. "You think you're kind of hot stuff. You're an important person. You've just been confirmed to the United States Supreme Court. And now you are going to monthly cafeteria committee meetings where, literally, the agenda is, 'what happened to the good recipe for the chocolate chip cookies?'" Kagan added that during her six-year tenure as junior justice, she successfully got a frozen yogurt machine installed in the court.
In addition to making sure the justices' salads have enough croutons, Gorsuch will also be tasked with taking the meeting minutes during the private conference. That's the regular meeting at which the justices — without any aides or staff present — decide which cases to take and vote on the cases for which they've already heard oral arguments. Kagan said that she enjoys taking notes at these meetings.
"I pay attention, I don't lose focus and I communicate all our decisions," she said.
The third — and according to Kagan, most important — responsibility of the junior justice is to open the door. If someone knocks on the door during the private conference, the junior justice has to get up and open it. There are no exceptions to this rule.
"Literally, if I'm like in the middle of a sentence — let's say it's my turn to speak or something — and there's a knock on the door, everybody will just stare at me, waiting for me to open the door," Kagan said. "It's like a form of hazing."
As a member of the Supreme Court, Gorsuch will be making decisions that shape the future of American law in enormous, far-reaching ways. But he'll also be making sure that the justices' soup isn't too salty.