Justice Neil 'GoFetch': Fraternal hazing the second time around

Charles Kramer, The Levison Group

The days of extensive fraternity and sorority hazing are mostly long gone. Except for the occasional story of some collegiate throwback experience, which leads invariably to discipline and sanction, the world has moved on.
Well, perhaps not the entire world.

With the recent use of a J.T. Kirkian maneuver to secure the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, the stage has been set for the nation’s most hallowed fraternal group to indulge in their own version of indoctrination. Gorsuch is no stranger to the process. He joined Columbia’s chapter of Phi Gamma Delta, commonly referred to as FIJI, back in 1986. He remained an active member until graduation in 1988, a period in which the fraternity was still known for its hard partying and boasts of conquest. Hazing was, at that time, undoubtedly still in vogue.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Justice Gorsuch is once again the low man on the totem pole. Although this time around the process will likely not include alcohol or midnight wake-ups for jumping jacks, or washing the other Justices’ cars, it will be hazing nonetheless.

The hazing of a new Justice is both traditional and predictable. When a new Justice joins the ranks of our nation’s highest court, they are immediately designated “private meeting secretary and door attendant.” In that “hallowed” role, they must take handwritten notes of the meetings and are responsible for answering the door if necessary. The new Justice also becomes the Justices’ appointee to the court cafeteria committee and are tasked with liasoning with the maintenance staff.

Gorsuch’s appointment will finally free Justice Elena Kagan from the menial duties she inherited with her appointment seven years ago. The degree to which she will assist the young Gorsuch in learning his duties is still to be seen, but there is no doubt she will relish the chance to be one of the delegators, rather than the delegatee. Kagan once noted that the private meeting duties of a new appointee involve a serious balancing act, since answering a knock at the door during private meetings, and dealing with whatever issue caused the interruption, prevents the newest Justice from taking the required notes. Apparently, rather than pausing in their discussions, it is traditional for the other Justices to attempt to cram as much substantive discussion in as possible while the note-taker is distracted.

The Cafeteria committee is also no minor matter. Long before she became known for her written decisions, Kagan became known within the Courthouse as the woman responsible for adding the frozen yogurt machine to the cafeteria. Before her, Justice Breyer had focused on salads and improving the coffee. Rumor has it that when Justice Sandra Day O’Connor decided to change cafeteria companies without proper consultation, the rest of the cafeteria committee simply resigned, causing some chaos.

What plans young Gorsuch may have for the Court cafeteria are largely unknown. Given the questions he posed on his first day of oral argument on the High Court, however, it appears that he intends to be a “strict textualist,” looking at his understanding of the “plain words” of statutes and rules. If he carries that view forward to his committee job, he may follow more in the shoes of Justice Breyer than Scalia. “Cafeteria” comes from the Spanish-American term, meaning “coffee shop.” Gorsuch may soon be known as the person who added the biscotti to Breyer’s upgraded coffee selections.


Under Analysis is nationally syndicated for the Levison Group. Charles Kramer is a principal of the St Louis-based law firm, Riezman Berger PC. Comments about this article may be sent to the Levison Group or Mr. Kramer c/o this newspaper, or direct to comments@LevsisonGroup.com.
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