From bananas to baby socks, lawyers stick to routines before arguments

By Mark Sherman
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration's top Supreme Court lawyer eats a bunch of bananas. Other advocates play music to psych themselves up. Some rub the feet on John Marshall's statue a floor below the courtroom.

The Supreme Court, which begins its new term on Monday, is awash in ritual. So it's no surprise that the lawyers have a few regular, if occasionally eccentric, observances of their own.

Arguing at the court can be both intimate and intimidating. Lawyers stand at a lectern that's surprisingly close to the bench. They can spend an hour or more responding to questions from the nine justices.

Advocates have many ways of getting ready, and some who have argued many cases have developed their own routines or lucky charms that they employ for a variety of reasons — out of a sense of comfort or, perhaps, because their first argument went well and no one likes to mess with a good thing.

Before each of his 50 Supreme Court arguments, Neal Katyal talked to his three children, reviewed his most recent practice session and made a playlist of songs that he listens to in the car on the way to the court.

"I did it for the first and it worked so I don't deviate," Katyal said.

The children were 5 and younger when Katyal argued for the first time, representing foreigners who were detained without charges at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. His most recent appearance was in late April.

"If you can explain your argument to a kid, it helps you focus on what's important," said Katyal, who served as the Obama administration's top Supreme Court lawyer for a time.

Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, who holds the same job for President Joe Biden, also has talked in recent appearances about using her children as a sounding board before her frequent arguments at the nation's highest court.

But Prelogar also has the same breakfast on the mornings she argues. She eats five or six bananas. A regular runner, Prelogar says it gives her the energy she needs, especially in this era when Supreme Court arguments can last for two to three hours.

Before he became an appellate judge, Sri Srinivasan carried the same two items to each of his 25 Supreme Court arguments — a baby sock belonging to each of his twin children, Maya and Vikram.

They were just a few weeks old when Srinivasan, then a Justice Department lawyer, made his first high court presentation in November 2002. Srinivasan is now the chief judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

His sister, Srija Srinivasan, explained the presence of the socks at the ceremony when he joined the appeals court in 2013.

"He had a sock from each of them in his suit pocket as his source of strength and luck, and for every argument since, he has kept a baby sock of Maya and Vikram's in his pocket in case he ever wavered from who he really is," Srija Srinivasan said.

When Jeffrey Fisher spent a year as a law clerk to Justice John Paul Stevens 25 years ago, he commuted to work on Washington's subway. He has generally traveled to the court the same way for his 45 arguments since then because it feels so familiar, even after one heart-stopping journey.

One morning, the train stalled and lost power in a tunnel between stations for what Fisher called "about the longest seven minutes of my life." Power was restored, and Fisher arrived in time.


The justices will be on the bench Monday, even if Congress fails to approve stopgap spending legislation and most of the government is shut down.

The court would be unaffected by a short shutdown because it can draw on a pot of money provided by court fees, including charges for filing lawsuits and other documents, court spokeswoman Patricia McCabe said.

The rest of the federal judiciary also would operate normally for at least the first two weeks of October, said Peter Kaplan, a spokesman for the judiciary.

Even in a longer shutdown, the entire judiciary would not shut down, and decisions about what activities would continue would be made by each court around the country. The justices and all federal judges would continue to be paid because of the constitutional prohibition on reducing judges' pay during their tenure, according to the Congressional Research Service.


Justice Clarence Thomas, approaching the 33rd anniversary of his tumultuous confirmation hearings, will by spring become the 10th longest-serving of the 116 men and women who have sat on the Supreme Court.

Thomas soon will move past Justices John McLean and James Moore Wayne, both appointed by President Andrew Jackson.

Thomas will overtake two men with whom he served, Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice John Paul Stevens, within three years.

If he stays on the court another five years, Thomas will become the longest-serving of them all. The current title-holder is Justice William Douglas, who served more than 36 1/2 years from 1939 to 1975.

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