Tradition is a value rooted in the United States Supreme Court, where the adherence of the nine magistrates to a myriad of historical rules it makes the inner workings of the US Supreme Court reliably consistent even as its decisions sometimes send shock waves through the country.
Some of those treasured rules will soon be on display as the newest member of the court, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, take a seat on the bench for oral arguments. Although Jackson was officially sworn in on him last spring, his investiture ceremony sealed his position on the court days before the court’s new term begins on Monday, October 3.
Jackson’s addition will cause the court to invoke one of its most long-standing traditions: reshuffling where justices sit on the bench when a new justice joins their ranks.
In the courtroom, the judges sit by seniority, with the presiding judge in the middle. “The senior associate justice sits to his right, the second senior to his left, and so on, alternating right and left by seniority,” according to the court.
This means that Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas will serve in the same position this term as they did the previous term. But the remaining justices will be rearranged, with Jackson sitting to the left of Roberts on the far end, and Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who joined the court in late 2020, sitting on the opposite end, and the other five justices taking new seats depending on when they joined the court.
On Friday, Jackson also participated in other court traditions, such as sitting in the historic John Marshall Bench Chair at the beginning of the ceremony, as is the custom for all new judges.
President Joe Biden attended the ceremony on Friday morning.. It is customary before the event for the president to converse privately with the judges in a conference room and sign the court’s oversized guestbook.
After the ceremony, Jackson took the traditional walk up the 36 marble steps to the front of the colonnaded building accompanied by the Chief Justice.
Although the judges will fill new seats this term, much of the public will never see them in those positions because photography is not allowed in the courtroom. But Roberts has announced that after more than two years of pandemic-related restrictions, members of the public will be able to return to the courtroom, though he has yet to provide details.
Before October, the justices are likely to discuss whether the court will continue to allow live audio streaming of oral arguments, a practice that began during the pandemic and allows the public to follow them in real time.
Continuing that practice could allow court watchers across the country to understand Jackson’s style on the bench as he participates in oral arguments during his first term.
In the new term, the justices will consider issues including voting rights, immigration, affirmative action, environmental regulations and religious freedom, areas where the solid conservative majority can easily control the results.