Take the case of Brewer v. Williams. In his concurrence, Justice Marshall writes,

I concur wholeheartedly in my Brother STEWART's opinion for the Court

I recall seeing this in other concurrences, though not come to mind immediately. I also assume that, for female justices, "Sister" is used.

When did this odd tradition come about?

1 Answer 1


The author Bob Woodward wrote a book about the Supreme Court called "The Brethren" exactly because of this.

The point was to set a civil tone on the court. When the first female Supreme Court justice O'Connor joined the court in 1981 the use decreased and I don't believe that a female justice has ever been referred to as sister.

I do not know when this tradition started.


  • I seem to remember that in a small number of instances, members of the House of Lords appellate committee (which was the equivalent of the UK supreme court until 2009) did informally refer to other members as "brothers". I shall try to track this down, but it may be a misremembering on my part. The correct address would be "My Noble Lord" of course, which would not translate well to the USSC.
    – Calchas
    Jun 19, 2015 at 12:22
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    I'll wait a bit longer to see if anything else comes in, but I think I'll accept this answer. Excellent research.
    – HDE 226868
    Jun 19, 2015 at 16:50
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    On the offchance any non-native speakers read this... "Brethren" is (in current usage) almost solely used in religious contexts. No one says "these are my brethren" to refer to siblings. And even in religious contexts, "brothers" is generally fine. So, for all intents and purposes, the plural of "brother" is "brothers". Jun 19, 2015 at 23:47
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    @ParthianShot brothers would imply being related by blood, brethren only by organization - the latter seems to fit much better.
    – Chieron
    Jul 19, 2016 at 9:02
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    @Chieron Counterpoint: Soldiers who served together are generally referred to as "brothers in arms", despite a lack of familial relation. Jul 20, 2016 at 17:48

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