A “Pizza Justice” & Food At The Supreme Court

Food & Drink

In a speech last week, Justice Brett Kavanaugh remarked that he and his colleagues at the U.S. Supreme Court eat a lot of lunches together. It is a tradition that the most junior justice at the court is tasked with serving on the committee that supervises the Court’s cafeteria, and while the role is less than coveted, food also has a way of bringing the justices closer together.

In his November 14th speech, Justice Kavanaugh noted that when he joined the Court, the Court’s cafeteria was not serving pizza. Calling it an “outrage,” Justice Kavanaugh jokingly remarked that his “legacy was secure.” “It’s fine by me if I’m ever known as the pizza justice.”

It is safe to say that most visitors to the court are not coming for the food, which ranges from sandwiches and soups to salads. Diners on Yelp labeled it “slightly above average for a cafeteria,” while visitors on TripAdvisor praised the cafeteria’s convenience rather than its fare. In 2010, the Washington Post quipped that the cafeteria’s food “should be unconstitutional.” A 2017 Wall Street Journal article was even more blunt: “Don’t Eat There.”

Justice Stephen Breyer holds the record for longest tenure on the committee, during which he was credited with expanding the salad bar. According to Justice Elena Kagan, the monthly meetings of the committee decide such weighty issues as what recipe the canteen should use for the chocolate chip cookies.

Justice Kagan had a particularly successful stint on the committee, being praised by Chief Justice John Roberts for getting a new frozen yogurt machine installed. According to Roberts, “No one at the court can remember any of the prior justices on the committee doing anything.”

Speaking on a 2016 panel with Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court curator Catherine Fitts noted that civility has been embraced and enforced through food during the court’s history.

In the early 1800s, Chief Justice John Marshall and other justices regularly dined together while staying at the same boarding house in Washington, D.C. As the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist described in a speech about Marshall:

If it were raining, [the justices] would have a glass of wine with dinner. They looked forward to this ritual, and one day were expressing regret that the weather outside was fair and sunny. But Marshall said “somewhere in our broad jurisdiction it must surely be raining,” and from then on they had a glass of wine with dinner every day.

No less than Chief Justice (and former President) William Howard Taft required that the Supreme Court building be designed with a canteen and dining room for justices. Since the 1970s, the justices have enjoyed an hour-long lunch adjournment. Now, many justices use that time to dine together in meals that might involve sharing food, celebrating one another’s birthdays, and discussing museum exhibits.

While Justice Kavanaugh is the latest justice to serve on the cafeteria committee, his time as the “pizza justice” provides just the latest chapter in the intertwined history of food and the Supreme Court.

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