Surprising Personal Facts About Supreme Court Justices

Supreme Court of the United States

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Supreme Court of the United States
Supreme Court of the United States by (None)

Players on the Court

As Judge Kentaji Brown Jackson undergoes high-profile confirmation hearings, the Supreme Court is back in the news once more. And Americans are realizing that, despite constant high-profile cases, we often know very little about these all-important figures. Beyond what's revealed during their appointments, justices keep a low profile as individuals. There's far more to our nation's top judges than their legal opinions. Here's a look at some lesser-known facts about those who served, or continue to serve, on the Supreme Court, including one justice who loves taking to the open road in an RV — and stopping wherever is economical. 

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Clarence Thomas
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Clarence Thomas Travels the Country in an RV

Justice Clarence Thomas, who was hospitalized for an infection with flu-like symptoms in 2022, is currently the court's longest-serving member. One of his favorite pastimes is driving a retrofitted 40-foot tour bus around the country. It's not unusual for him to park it overnight in a Walmart parking lot, though he's more recently known to use his KOA discount card. Sometimes his fellow RV drivers tell him he looks a lot like Clarence Thomas.

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catholic church

Thomas Considered Becoming a Priest

Though he ended up serving on the highest court in the land, it wasn't Thomas' first career aspiration. While in school, he pursued becoming a Catholic priest, transferring to St. John Vianney Minor Seminary, from which he graduated in 1967.

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Sandra Day O'Connor
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Sandra Day O'Connor Wasn't Able to Find a Job After Law School

Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman on the Supreme Court, did not have an easy time of it early in her career. Though she attended prestigious Stanford University law school (as one of just four women in her class), she was unable to get a job after graduating. Things were so bad, she was forced to work for free because nobody would hire a female lawyer. O'Connor retired from the court in 2006.

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frozen yogurt
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Kagan Brought Frozen Yogurt to the Court

It's not just that Kagan dropped in one day with froyo for her buddies: As the junior judge with humbling cafeteria committee responsibilities, Kagan decided that the Supreme Court cafeteria needed a frozen yogurt dispenser, and made it happen. "No one at the court can remember any of the prior justices on the committee doing anything," Chief Justice John Roberts said.

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An Assortment of Popular Comic Books for Sale Outside of a Comic Book Shop in Downtown Spokane, Washington

Kagan's Reading List is Relatable

Kagan is such a fan of "Pride and Prejudice" that she reads the Jane Austen novel every year. But she seems to be an even bigger fan of comic books. "There basically are no comic book action hero movies that I have not seen," she said in 2012. And three years later, she wrote about a Marvel Comics-related royalties case before the court with a bunch of superpower and Spider-Man jokes, such as referring to "a whole web of precedents."

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Elena Kagan
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Elena Kagan Began Judging at 13

Current Justice Elena Kagan — at 5-foot-3, she was called "shorty" by the 6-foot-2 Thurgood Marshall, who retired from the court in the early '90s — seemed to set her sights on the bench from childhood. Taking part in a mock trial in eighth grade, she blocked a friend's rebuttal to her case. "She said I had rested my case and couldn't call anyone," the friend recalled to the Associated Press. "We were 13!" In high school, she posed for a yearbook photo in judge's robes, and her yearbook quote was from Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter.

Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg with other Supreme Court members
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Antonin Scalia and RBG Were Great Friends Despite Vast Differences

Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016, may have been famous for his conservative views, but that didn't get in the way of him developing a deep and lasting friendship with Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In fact, the justices celebrated more than one New Year's Eve together.

opera theater

Justices Are All About the Opera

Scalia and RBG bonded over a love of opera, and each appeared onstage in them: Scalia was an extra in a production of Richard Strauss' "Ariadne auf Naxos," while Ginsburg was an obsessive with non-speaking appearances in several productions, and once had a speaking role in Donizetti's "La Fille du Regiment" at the Washington National Opera. Ultimately, the justices became the subjects of their own opera in "Scalia/Ginsburg," a comedic take on the friendship by Derrick Wang. (Justice William Rehnquist, meanwhile, had a walk-on part in a production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Patience.")

William Howard Taft
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William Howard Taft Preferred Being a Justice to Being President

William Howard Taft is usually recalled for serving as president from 1909 until 1913, but he went on to serve as a Supreme Court justice, appointed by President Warren Harding in 1921. That made him the only person to serve in both the Oval Office and on the Supreme Court — and he seemed to care more about the latter, saying, "I don't remember that I was ever president."

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William Howard Taft
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Taft Had Some Pretty Silly Nicknames

Taft must have had a pretty good sense of humor. He had a variety of nicknames throughout his life, a couple of them — "Big Bill" and "Big Lub" — because he was hefty, with weight peaking at 350 pounds. But his wife called him "Sleeping Beauty" based on his habit of dozing off at parties, and he was known also to nod off at operas, funerals, and church. "Often while I was talking to him after a meal, his head would fall over on his breast and he would go sound asleep for 10 or 15 minutes. He would waken and resume the conversation, only to repeat the performance in the course of half an hour or so," a senator said of Taft. 

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Sonia Sotomayor
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Sonia Sotomayor's Career Was Inspired by 'Perry Mason'

Justice Sonia Sotomayor has come a long way from her humble beginnings. Appointed by President Barack Obama to the highest court in the land, she was brought up in a public housing project in the Bronx, where her role models were somewhat eclectic. She has said watching the television program "Perry Mason" inspired her decision to pursue a law career, and that she admired the character and courage of Nancy Drew, the fictional star detective in a series of children's mystery books.

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Samuel Alito
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Samuel Alito Dreamed of a Career in Professional Baseball

Justice Samuel Alito's ambition was apparent at an early age — but it wasn't the Supreme Court he'd set his sights on. Alito played second base in baseball, and his youthful aspiration was to someday become a baseball commissioner. (By college, however, his career goals had shifted. The 1972 Princeton yearbook says his intention was to someday "warm a seat on the Supreme Court.")

Anthony Kennedy
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Anthony Kennedy Drove Across Europe in a VW

Anthony Kennedy, who retired from the court in 2018, has always had a serious love of traveling. During the course of his life, he has worked in China, Canada, England, and Austria (where he continues to spend summers). During college, he spent a summer driving around Europe in a VW.

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Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy
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Kennedy 'Bored' His Way to the Supreme Court

Kennedy, an actual altar boy as a child, has been described as such a goody-goody that his father once jokingly offered him $100 if he would do something to get himself picked up by the police. He never earned the $100 — but after the failure of President Ronald Reagan's court nominations of Robert Bork (who took part in President Richard Nixon's "Saturday Night Massacre") and Douglas Ginsburg (who admitted to smoking pot), Kennedy's straight-laced behavior helped him win appointment.

John Roberts
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John Roberts Once Worked in a Steel Mill

Though current Chief Justice John Roberts is fluent in Latin and went to Harvard, one of the most elite educational institutions in the country, he worked hard to pay that tuition bill — by doing decidedly blue-collar work in a steel mill.

William Rehnquist
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William Rehnquist Had His Own Robe Decoration

Like the famous RBG, former Chief Justice Rehnquist added his own sartorial touches to the black robes he wore. In Rehnquist's case, during the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, he customized the robe by adding four gold stripes to the sleeves — an homage to a judge he saw in "Iolanthe," a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. Afterward, he quoted the character to explain what he did during the trial: "I did nothing in particular, and I did it very well."

William Rehnquist
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Rehnquist Performed a Standout April Fool's Day Gag

While he was an associate justice under Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, Rehnquist once put up a life-sized photographic cut-out of Burger on a sidewalk near the court and charged passersby a buck to get their picture taken with it. 

Thurgood Marshall
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Thurgood Marshall Changed His Name by Second Grade

Thurgood Marshall, the Supreme Court's first Black justice, was not the name Marshall was born with. At least not exactly: The original spelling of his first name was Thoroughgood. But by second grade, the young justice-to-be was tired of having to write such a lengthy name and decided to simplify it. Marshall retired from the court in 1991 and died in 1993.


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Like plenty of people starting their careers, Marshall struggled to make ends meet financially. As a young lawyer, he had a second job working nights at a clinic that treated sexually transmitted diseases.

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Chief Justice Warren Burger
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Warren Burger Had a Strange Literary Cameo

Writer Gore Vidal, angry about a court ruling about obscenity during the writing of his 1974 book "Myron," decided to remove the so-called "dirty" words from his book and replace them with satirical "cleaner" ones: He used the names of the five Supreme Court justices who angered him with their votes, including former Chief Justice Warren Burger. In the book, for instance, the term for a certain intimate act became "to burger"; the last names of Rehnquist and justice Byron "Whizzer" White became ways to refer to certain male and female body parts, respectively. The euphemisms are gone now — Vidal took them out for an edition coming out about a decade later. Burger retired from the court in 1986 and died in 1995.

Amy Coney Barrett
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Amy Coney Barrett Is the Youngest Justice

Amy Coney Barrett, who was confirmed to the court at a lightning pace in 2020 after the death of Ginsburg, is currently the youngest justice on the court. The New Orleans native is a mother of seven children, two of whom were adopted from Haiti. She was 48 when she was sworn in and is the fifth woman to serve on the court.