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Supreme collegiality

WASHINGTON – Justice Stephen Breyer may not be as outspoken as Justice Clarence Thomas, but he had some amusing insights into the workings of the Supreme Court this morning.

Breyer noted in a speech that he was the junior justice for 13 of his 14 years on the high court. As such, it was his duty to open the conference room door if anyone knocked.

"It was tough, you know, but I got it after awhile," he said. "In fact, one day, a couple of years ago, it was a cup of coffee for Justice [Antonin] Scalia. That's a little unusual. It's usually some papers or something.

"I handed him the coffee, and he said, 'You've been doing this quite a while now.' I said, 'Yeah, I've gotten very good at it.' He said, 'No, you haven't, actually.'"

Breyer said the atmosphere at the court is actually very collegial.

"I've never heard a voice raised in anger in that conference room," he said. "If you feel strongly, go and tell your wife how strongly you feel."

In answer to a question, Breyer said he considers Thomas a friend.

"He's a distinguished and dignified person," Breyer said, "and I think we get on well, and I think that's the way it should be."

Breyer's comments came in a speech to the National Conference on Citizenship at the National Archives.