The Rules of the Club

Will Stephen Breyer be a leader on this court? If so, it may take a while. His vaunted consensus-building skills, honed as chief counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee and polished on a federal court of appeals, have been singled out as the factor most likely to make him a star in his new job. But that is a little like ballyhooing the passing skills of a college quarterback: no matter how good he is, he may well play backup his first year in the pros.

Every hierarchy has its version of freshman hazing, and the court, in its staid way,...

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