The media have been reporting on the contents of Justice John Paul Stevens' documents, which have now been made public. This article for instance includes excerpts from what seem to be correspondence between the justices—sometimes with an informal tone, clearly not meant to be released.

I'm curious how these documents are produced, and how they are distributed practically. It would otherwise seem like an email exchange between people who work remotely. I've always imagined them as nine people working in the same office building. Do the nine justices continually send written letters to one another? (Is this because they don't always work in proximity to one another?) Are there assistants typing up each person's notes and sending them to the other eight Justices?

  • I don't think the documents' nature and the practicalities of distribution is on-topic as a legal question. It might be better to ask what law(s) require them to be generated and preseserved..?
    – user35069
    May 5, 2023 at 8:50

1 Answer 1


The Justices communicate by exchanging written memoranda, or at least they did during Justice Stevens’ time. See Jeffrey Toobin, The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court (2007), p 48:

Outsiders tend to be surprised by how rarely Supreme Court justices speak to each other, one on one. Under Rehnquist, the nine spent a good deal of time together as a group. Argument days, most Mondays and Wednesdays when they were in session, were preceded by the traditional thirty-six handshakes, each justice with every other, and they had lunch together most of these days as well. There were also conference discussions every Friday during these weeks. After the conference, however, the justices tended to communicate with one another through memos, which were often drafted by their law clerks. (After e-mail became ubiquitous, the memos also circulated electronically, but always with paper copies as well; among the justices, only Thomas and Breyer, and eventually Stevens, were fully comfortable communicating by e-mail.)

Some further detail about the distribution of these memos appears later in an anecdote about Bush v. Gore (p 170):

Stevens drafted an order of just a few sentences remanding the case to the Florida Supreme Court for the setting of a statewide standard to continue the recount. He sent his messenger scurrying down the marble hallway to Kennedy and the rest of the justices. He heard nothing back, except from Ginsburg, who said she would join if it was a way of bringing the whole Court together. (The rush of events in Bush v. Gore strained the Court's technology, which was, in 2000, still rather primitive. As a security precaution, the e-mail system circulated only within the building. Plus, there was only a single, communal computer from which the justices and clerks could obtain access to the Internet. Because only Thomas and Breyer used computers regularly at the time, there was little pressure from the justices to update. For the most part, the justices communicated with one another by hand-delivered memos, which were typed by their secretaries.)

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