Supreme Court Seating Order
Supreme Court Seating Order
GRAPHIC: The Washington Post - February 1, 2006

Shift on the Bench Has Already Begun

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. may or may not change the Supreme Court's jurisprudence. But he will shake up one aspect of court business that was unchanged for more than 11 years: the seating chart.

As the junior associate justice, Alito will occupy the end of the bench farthest to the courtroom audience's right during oral arguments. Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who has sat there since October 1994, will move across to the audience's extreme left.

The other justices will shift according to seniority as well, except for John Paul Stevens, the senior associate justice, who will remain just to the left of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. Justice Antonin Scalia will occupy the chair to Roberts's right, where retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor sat.

The chief justice has the middle chair, regardless of how long he has been on the court. Thus, Roberts, a rookie, did not alter the seating arrangement when he replaced the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist in October.

Breyer is also in for other changes: no longer will it be his job to answer the door during the court's closed conferences, nor must he report the justices' votes to the clerk of the court. Those jobs, traditionally done by the junior justice, now belong to Alito.

Breyer was the court's junior member for 11 years, 181 days, about a month shy of the record set by Joseph Story, who served during the 19th century.

In a brief interview, Breyer jokingly observed that sitting at one end of the bench and standing last in line "require no talent," though "opening the door and reporting the results might."

"But," he said, "I am confident that Justice Alito will carry out those responsibilities perfectly."

-- Charles Lane

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