Stories

What we're reading: The Supreme Court's famous basketball court

Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

The top floor of the Supreme Court is famously home to a gym and basketball court known as the "Highest Court in the Land," Stanley Kay of Sports Illustrated writes.

The big picture: The Supreme Court's court is a haven where political differences no longer matter, creating a hallowed space where hundreds of clerks, aides and even justices tabled the issues of the day to dish out assists, set screens and drain jump shots.

Quote"It was sort of a place where everyone took off their uniforms and you couldn't tell who was who. ... You were just playing basketball."
— Nikolas Bowie, a former clerk for Justice Sonia Sotomayor

The details: The Highest Court wasn't always that — it was once just a space for storage. "The building's architect, Cass Gilbert, designed the room for storage. At an unknown point in the 1940s — the building opened in 1935 — an unknown person transformed it into a gym," Kay writes.

  • The court was once used for tennis by Justice Hugo Black, but eventually basketball became the gym's mainstay. No activity is allowed while court is in session.
  • "The original floor was concrete and unforgiving, the room cramped and the ceiling far too low — but that has only added to the quirky charm of what's known as the Highest Court in the Land."

Everyone from security guards, cafeteria workers, librarians, clerks and even justices themselves have laced up for games of pick-up ball. Big names include:

  • Justice Clarence Thomas
  • Justice Elena Kagan
  • Justice Byron White
  • Justice Neil Gorsuch, including his time as a clerk for White and Justice Anthony Kennedy
  • Trump appointee Brett Kavanaugh — during his time as a Kennedy clerk

Thomas even famously tore his Achilles tendon while playing against Karl Tilleman, a former clerk of his, who played for Canada's Olympic basketball team during the 1980s.