Justice Elena Kagan has some exciting news: "I shot myself a deer."
New York City native Kagan revealed over the weekend that she and conservative colleague Justice Antonin Scalia have expanded their hunting forays.
Last year, "he said 'it's time for big-game hunting.' So we actually went out to Wyoming this past fall to shoot deer and antelope," Kagan said, revealing some rare inside information about the justices and their interactions with each other outside the court.
The newest member has become fast friends with one of the most conservative, and had earlier indicated they had been hunting for quail four or five times.
All this started when President Barack Obama nominated Kagan, 53, to the high court in 2010 and she made the rounds with senators. Many of those private meetings involved questions about her views on hot-button issues.
"The NRA (National Rifle Association) has quite a presence in judicial confirmations," Kagan told an audience at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Saturday.
"And quite a few senators ask you your views on the Second Amendment," she said.
While refusing to reveal how she would vote on such cases, Kagan promised to keep an open mind.
She previously revealed Sen. Jim Risch asked her about gun rights, remarking the nominee may not realize how important the issue is to some Americans.
Kagan admitted never having owned or fired a gun before.
"But I told the senator if I was fortunate enough to be confirmed, I would go hunting with Justice Scalia," she said.
And that promise has been kept, first joining him on an excursion to a Washington-area shooting range and then on several hunting trips.
Kagan's point in all this is to reinforce what few American believe of a court with five more conservative members and four who are more liberal.
"We get along remarkably well," she told the Aspen audience. "There are true and genuine friendships. It's true the (ideological) disagreements test people's capacity to work together, but to come back the next day and find your colleague just as delightful as you found him the day before -- we're all grownups and we manage to do that, and the court is full of great people," she said.
"We schmooze more than people think we do," she added.
What's next? Duck hunting, Kagan said.
The current Supreme Court is considered a "hot bench" and not because of the courtroom temperature or the relative good looks of the nine justices.
"Hot" as in the spirited, often competitive oral arguments that have livened up -- or injected chaos into -- public sessions where important legal and constitutional issues are openly debated and discussed.
One person who thinks it is getting increasingly toasty is Chief Justice John Roberts, who said on Saturday that arguments have "gone too far."
"We do overdo it, the bench has gotten more and more aggressive," said the man who presides over those two-hour sessions. "Recent appointees have tended to be more active in questioning than the justices they replaced."
Roberts revealed his concerns at a judicial conference in West Virginia, saying he is often put into an uncomfortable position.
"I've had to act as an umpire in terms of the competition among my colleagues to get questions out," he said.
While not offering excuses, he does say one reason may be the nine justices do not discuss the cases among themselves before arguments.
"So when we get out on the bench it's really the first we begin to get some clues about what our colleagues think," he said. "We do tend sometimes to debate each other through counsel."