Kids, Here’s Your All-Access Supreme Court Pass

Supreme Court justices are notoriously private, but students on field trips often snag valuable time with America’s reclusive judges.

By: Marisa M. Kashino

The Supreme Court building. Photograph by Flickr user Mark Fischer.

The Supreme Court justices are a private bunch. They rarely talk to the press, and no cameras are allowed in their courtroom. But there’s one group they open up to: students.

Spokeswoman Kathy Arberg says the court doesn’t keep track of the number of field trips that score one-on-one time with the justices, but she says they’re “not uncommon.” Students from Montgomery County’s Paint Branch High School chatted with Justice Sonia Sotomayor during a 2010 trip to One First Street. Third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders from DC’s Kendall Demonstration Elementary have also visited with Sotomayor.

For the past three years, Tillman Breckenridge, an appellate lawyer at Reed Smith, has organized a Supreme Court day for kids with the Just the Beginning Foundation, which focuses on inspiring students to go into the law. In 2010, the students met with Justice Samuel Alito. The year before, they met with Chief Justice John Roberts. And this past fall, they met with Justice Elena Kagan.

Breckenridge says the hardest part of organizing the meetings is getting in touch with the justices’ chambers: “Once you’ve done that, they’re actually very giving of their time.”

This year, a friend of Breckenridge’s who worked with Kagan when she was solicitor general connected him with the justice. Kagan told the high-school juniors and seniors about losing out to Sotomayor when Barack Obama filled the first high-court vacancy of his presidency. The call from Obama was, Kagan said, “the nicest rejection” she’d ever received. She used the story to emphasize to the students the importance of not giving up on a goal.

This article appears in the February 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.