Friday, July 27, 2018

The Highest Court in the Land

The U.S. Supreme Court and Sports Illustrated don't often intersect. But the July 30 issue of the popular sports magazine features a delightful story about the true "highest court in the land": the small basketball court above the U.S. Supreme Court's historic courtroom. You can read it online now, or look for the print edition in the Goodson Law Library's Leisure Reading collection soon.

Keeping with Court tradition, the story does not include actual photographs of the basketball court and its neighboring gym. As with the Court's longstanding ban on photography and video in the SCOTUS courtroom, the SI story instead features illustrations by sketch artist Arthur Lien.

The basketball court and gym began life as a Court storage room, before their transformation sometime in the 1940s. From that point on, Justices, clerks, and Court staff alike enjoy the facilities for games of basketball and other athletic pursuits – as long as the Court is not in session below, where noise from the basketball court and neighboring gym would rattle the walls of the building.

The SCOTUS basketball court has caused its share of injuries over the years. Justice Clarence Thomas tore his Achilles tendon in a 1992 pickup game with his clerks, who at the time included former Olympic athlete and NBA player Karl Tilleman. While clerking for former Justice Thurgood Marshall, current Justice Elena Kagan also sustained a leg injury from the court's unforgiving floor. Still, Kagan fondly recalls her basketball glory days, when teammates nicknamed her "Shorty" but ran plays that allowed the 5'3" now-Justice to score over much taller players.

To learn more fun facts about the history of the U.S. Supreme Court and its building, try a search of the Duke Libraries Catalog for the subject United States Supreme Court – History. You'll find many titles, including the 1965 title Equal Justice Under Law: The Supreme Court in American Life that is referenced in the Sports Illustrated article. The library's research guide to the U.S. Supreme Court will also provide information about reference works on the Court’s history. For help with finding these resources, be sure to Ask a Librarian.