SCHS: Publications & Media — Rosette Detail

March Madness at the Supreme Court

SCOTUS Scoop: March Madness at the Supreme Court, Jim Duff & Justice White
Justice Byron R. White and Jim Duff. Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States.

The Ides of March are upon us, and for many it does not portend the doom of which Julius Caesar was warned but rather March Madness and the exhilaration of the NCAA basketball tournaments. At least until your team loses. It is a special time at the Supreme Court, too. In my years working there, not only were the NCAA tournament games in full gear at this time of year, but also the pick-up basketball games in the Supreme Court’s gym picked up in frequency. It falls in a sweet spot in between the law clerks’ realization that their clerkships are moving more quickly than they imagined (and if they are ever going to take advantage of playing basketball in the Court’s gym they better get to it) and the end of the Term crunch when there is simply no time to do anything else but work.

Everyone who has had the great fortune of working at the Court and playing in its gym – a converted storage room with a low ceiling above the Library – has their own favorite stories to tell. Many are chronicled and described in Stanley Kay’s excellent piece “The Highest Court in the Land” published in Sports Illustrated on July 25, 2018. My memories involve the many friendships formed in that small gym that I enjoy to this day. For me, and many others, none were more treasured than the time spent there with Justice Byron R. White.

Justice White was a superb athlete – he lettered in three sports at the University of Colorado; was the Heisman Trophy runner-up; and was the leading rusher in the National Football League twice. He remained fit throughout his life and one way in which he did so was by playing basketball at the Court. His best known athletic achievements were in his football career. Few know, however, that the basketball team on which he starred at the University of Colorado played in the national championship game in the first National Invitational Tournament in Madison Square Garden in March of 1938, the predecessor to March Madness and the NCAA Tournament today. You wouldn’t learn this from Justice White. He was a very modest man. But he certainly deserved President John F. Kennedy’s praise upon nominating him to the Supreme Court: “He has excelled at everything.”

We hope you enjoy your March, whether it is filled with basketball Madness on television or at a gym near you, and the other wonderful signs of Spring that is on the way!