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11 Bits of SCOTUS Trivia From the Yale Trio's Trip to Campus

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By William Peacock, Esq. on October 28, 2014 10:16 AM

The Supreme Court's three justices from Yale made the trip back to New Haven, Connecticut, on Saturday to receive the school's Award of Merit. The event was especially sweet for Justice Clarence Thomas, who for a long time has had a cold, estranged relationship with his alma mater. He remarked that the event was "far more special to me than at the time of my graduation."

But the event wasn't just a look into the life of Clarence Thomas. Two other justices, Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor, were also honored. Between the three of them, we learned many interesting things about the SCOTUS Yaleies. Here are 11 notes and trivia bits pulled from The Washington Post and The New York Times' recaps of the event:

11. At one point in the 1970s, Thomas, Alito, Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham were Yale Law students at the same time. Sotomayor (Class of '79) was only a few years behind them.

10. There are still spittoons at the judges' desks.

9.  Justice Thomas wore overalls and boots to Yale.

8. Thomas used to have a much colder attitude towards his alma mater. In his autobiography, he wrote: "As a symbol of my disillusionment, I peeled a fifteen-cent price sticker off a package of cigars and stuck it on the frame of my law degree to remind myself of the mistake I'd made by going to Yale."

7. Thomas has mellowed quite a bit since then: Not only did he call his younger law student self "cynical and negative," but added, "I wish I came here at a time when I could have been more positive. There is so much here that I walked right by."

6. Justice Alito, the man with the dour disposition on the bench, the one who rolled his eyes at Ginsburg and mouthed "not true" during the State of the Union address in 2010, can actually drop the one-liners. When asked about what he's currently reading, Alito replied: "I have two books that are inspirational and I keep them on the table by my bed, and I try to read from them a little bit each night. It's My Grandfather's Son and My Beloved World." (Those are Thomas' and Sotomayor's autobiographies, respectively).

5. Justice Sotomayor enjoys salsa dancing, but prefers to follow. "I have a facility that some of my colleagues would find very strange," she said. "I can follow." (She was referencing her aggressive questioning during oral arguments, which sometimes "has held [her] in bad stead," as well as her general lack of shyness when shaking up traditions.)

4. Alito, dropping another bomb: "It's a revelation to me that Sonia likes to follow," he said. "I think we're going to start dancing at conference."

3. In 2005, when preparing for his confirmation hearing, Justice Alito sent a letter to Yale apologizing for missing his 30th class reunion: "I believe that this is the first five-year reunion I have not attended," he wrote.

2. Alito and Sotomayor suggested that the court may be too old-school (especially the refusal to use e-mail), while Thomas favored formality and tradition.

1. All three think that the Court could use a bit more diversity in regards to geography, religion, professional background, and education. Justice Thomas noted: "I think we have to be concerned that almost all of us are from two law schools." (Five justices graduated from Harvard, three from Yale, and Justice Ginsburg started at Harvard before transferring to Columbia.)

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