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SCOTUS Tradition: Carols at the Christmas Recess Party

By Robyn Hagan Cain on December 23, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Justice Thurgood Marshall was a party pooper. Or perhaps a Scrooge or a Grinch, if you're looking to describe him within the holiday vernacular.

Apparently, the revered Justice Marshall, intent on keeping church and state apart, declined the annual invitation to the Supreme Court Christmas Recess Party.

That's right, we said Christmas. And we meant it. While most government offices -- and private sector offices, for that matter -- enjoy a "holiday party" at the end of the year, the Supreme Court holds a Christmas Recess Party.

Former Chief Justice William Rehnquist saw the party as a chance to gather the justices and the clerks in the Great Hall of the Court, break out his "best singing voice" and enjoy a few carols, reports CNN.

Rehnquist would even lead the crowd in carols. "At the Chief's shindig, law clerks can get tiddly on eggnog and sing Christmas Recess carols, led by the Chief Justice -- as selected from a hymnal distributed ... by the Chief Justice," according to Slate.

There is debate about whether the Court violates the Establishment Clause with the holiday shindig, but Justice John Roberts has continued the tradition, (though he doesn't seem to enjoy the booming tenor talents of his predecessor).

And even if the Court's party for hosting includes marshmallow toasting when the caroling continues out to the snow, what happens at the Supreme Court Christmas Recess Party largely stays at the Supreme Court Christmas Recess Party: since Chief Justice Roberts discourages clerks and jurists from using social media, it's hard to find pictures of pictures of the Nine in their holiday best enjoying a little Christmas cheer.

Finally, in keeping with the SCOTUS tradition, and at the risk of offending the ghost of Justice Marshall, we will say: Happy Christmas to all, and to all, a good night.

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