Shedding light on the Supreme Court, the most private and powerful institution in government

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In this episode of The Legal Eagle Files, KCRW host and journalist Madeleine Brand and law professor Jessica Levinson shed some light on the most private and powerful institution in our government: the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court held oral arguments over the telephone for the first time, which were live-streamed to the public last week.

While the court heard some important cases about religious freedom, birth control, and trademarks, the most memorable moment was the flush heard round the world. One of the justices apparently forgot to unmute and used the facilities during oral arguments. 

But what do we really know about the most powerful court in the world?

Levinson offers additional insights into how the Supreme Court functions and shares a bit of Supreme Court trivia.

What are the big cases still to be decided this term?

The court will hear two big, politically-charged cases this week. First, the court will hear a case that asks whether Congressional committees or a state grand jury has the power to subpoena President Trump’s accountant and lender for his financial records. 

Second, the court will hear a case that deals with the Electoral College, and asks whether electors can vote for the candidate of their choosing, or if they must vote for the candidate they pledged to vote for. This case could help determine the winner of the next presidential election. 

The highest court in the land

After a justice is appointed to the court, they serve on the infamous cafeteria committee. Justice Elena Kagan is known throughout the land — or at least throughout the courthouse — for adding a frozen yogurt machine to the court cafeteria. 

There is also a basketball court directly above the courtroom. It is referred to as “the highest court in the land.” Years ago, as the legend goes, Justice Byron White was playing basketball while oral arguments were being conducted in the courtroom. The noise bothered Justice Sandra Day O’Connor who sent up a note saying, “you’re fired.”