Naughty, funny, surprising: notes between Supreme Court justices

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The U.S. Supreme Court in 2010. Top row (left to right): Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen G. Breyer, Samuel A. Alito, and Elena Kagan. Bottom row (left to right): Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, John G. Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Credit: Steve Petteway, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States. 

You can learn a lot from a paper trail, and what the U.S. Supreme Court leaves behind is often more interesting and revelatory than what you might glean from oral arguments.

Detailed conference notes that indicate how a justice might be thinking about precedent and complex case law.

But the Justices are also human. They get bored. They pass notes back and forth. Antonin Scalia once gave Justice Harry Blackmun a note that said, “Harry. Stay awake.”

The justices have also criticized attorneys’ fashion choices, exchanged baseball scores, and passed around dirty poems.

You can find all of that online in the SCOTUS Notes archive, and even help the archive by transcribing some of those handwritten papers yourself.

Political science professor Timothy Johnson has spent decades building this trove of Supreme Court ephemera.


Courtesy of Timothy Johnson. 
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Courtesy of Timothy Johnson.