On the red carpet: Photographing the Supreme Court

On the red carpet: Photographing the Supreme Court

Each time a new United States Supreme Court justice is appointed, a selection of news photographers is given rare access to take a group photo of justices who make up the nation’s highest court.

The photo, which has been dubbed by photographers as the “class picture,” is interesting in two respects: it is the only time the public sees all the justices seated together and since reporters are not allowed into the room, little is known about what happens when the picture is made.

Photographers are given precisely two minutes – timed by a stopwatch – to make an image that likely won’t be updated for another several years (the last time the nine justices sat for a group photo was in 2010, after justice Elena Kagan was appointed by President Obama). But unlike photographing prominent figures on the other red carpet, photographers must remain as poised as their subjects. They do not vie for the justices' attention – they work those precious two minutes as best they can. 

AP’s veteran White House and Capitol Hill photographer J. Scott Applewhite first snapped the group portrait in 1981 during the Reagan administration, when Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman appointed to the court. The setting hasn't changed much since then, but the court’s demographics have; some 36 years later, the court includes three women, one of whom is Latina, and an African-American.

Last week, Applewhite again took the class picture, this one including the newest justice, Neil Gorsuch. Listen below as he shares key details about the session's logistics and his considerations as a photojournalist. The length of the audio clip is the same amount of time Applewhite and other photographers are given to photograph the justices.

Text by Emily Leshner

Photos J. Scott Applewhite

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