5 Things You Never Knew About the Supreme Court

I can't believe everyone doesn't have a crush on at least one justice right now.

Until last Thursday, I was blissfully unaware of the SCOTUS blog. Hell, I was blissfully unaware of the SCOTUS acronym (which, I maintain, is hideous and sounds remarkably like genitalia). But since I spent last Thursday morning updating my Twitter feed every two seconds, trying desperately to figure out if some at least marginally rational system of health-care reform was about to be instituted in this country, I was pretty much forced to get cozy with the Supreme Court in a way I never thought possible.

It was exhilarating, actually—feeling connected to an entire branch of government, referring to justices by name, trawling the Internet for records of past decisions in order to better prepare myself for the verdict. And the glow hasn’t worn off; I thrill every time I see some glorious tidbit about Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the “broccoli horrible,” or read excerpts of Justice John Roberts’s deciding opinion. I smile fondly at photographs of Sonia Sotomayor, my internal dialogue something like “Hey girl. I see you.”

Except apparently, according to the Washington Post, I am relatively alone in my newfound fascination with the machinations of America’s highest-ruling judicial authority. Forty-five percent of we U.S citizens, according to a very recent Pew Research poll, have no idea what the outcome of the health-care decision was. The most important, sweeping and contested Supreme Court case in recent years, and almost half of America has no idea what the hell happened. This is nuts!

Or is it? Didn’t I have little to no interest in the Supreme Court until very recently? Didn’t a former co-worker and very intelligent lady ask me last Thursday, rather sheepishly, what exactly the case was I was so anxiously waiting to hear resolved? And frankly, can I blame her? The Supreme Court is not exactly the sexiest body of individuals, and the judicial branch of government is frequently eclipsed by the fast-talking, high-powered executive and the oh-so-abhorred legislative.

And so, dear friends, just after the anniversary of the birth of our great nation (if not the birth of the Constitution—that’s September 17th, who knew!?), I would like to offer the following tidbits I’ve snared up recently about the hippest branch of government these days:

1. The Supreme Court is convened at 10 a.m. every morning of session with the following chant: “Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting. God save the United States and this Honorable Court!” Oyez, Oyez, Oyez? I hear you cry. Yep, I didn’t know either. Apparently, this delightful exclamation is Law French for “Hear ye, hear ye.” And what, you ask, is Law French? It’s the strange Anglo-Norman bastardization of French used for centuries in the courts of England, and the language from which most of our legal terminology—from “bailiff” to “chattel” to “mortgage” (literally a “dead pledge”) is derived. Amazing.

2. These days, the court hears upwards of 10,000 cases per session. In 1960, only about 2,313 cases were on the docket. Apparently our country is getting more litigious.

3. When the first court convened in 1790, one poor sod wore his old British-y wig and got reamed out by Thomas Jefferson, who apparently told him something like “For heaven’s sake, discard the monstrous wig which makes the English judges look like rats peeping through bunches of oakum.”

4. The president of the United States actually has the legal right to argue a case before the Supreme Court. Though apparently the last guy to try it was Richard Nixon, and that didn’t go so well.

5. In one of their last judicial orders this session, the court declared that CBS was not liable for the $550,000 fine imposed by the FCC for Janet Jackson’s 2004 Super Bowl nip slip. Glory, glory hallelujah, her truth is marching on.

So go forth, America, and give a crap about the judiciary! It just passed an act that requires insurance companies to spend 80 percent of your premiums on actual health care—as opposed to, you know, advertising or overhead or delicious cocktail parties for pharmaceutical corporations.