When the Justices of the Supreme Court refer to themselves in the aggregate as "the Conference"?as distinguished from "the Court"?they are alluding to their deliberative functions in reaching decisions. The Conference considers, discusses, even negotiates; the Court acts.
The name comes from the Justices' practice of meeting to discuss cases and vote on their disposition. Two kinds of questions are considered at these Conferences: whether the Court should review a case, and how to decide a case under review. Just before the beginning of each term, the Conference considers a great many applications for review. (See APPEAL; CERTIORARI, WRIT OF; APPELLATE JURISDICTION; ORIGINAL JURISDICTION.) During the term, in weeks when ORAL ARGUMENTS are scheduled, the Conference generally meets regularly to consider the cases argued within the preceding few days.
The Conference is limited to the nine Justices. Clerks and secretaries do not attend, and if messages are passed into the room, tradition calls for the junior Justice to be doorkeeper. By another tradition, each Justice shakes hands with all the other Justices before the Conference begins. The CHIEF JUSTICE presides.
The Chief Justice calls a case for discussion, and normally speaks first. The other Justices speak in turn, according to their seniority. (Interruptions are not unknown.) The custom has been for Justices to vote in inverse order of seniority, the Chief Justice voting last. Recent reports, however, suggest flexibility in this practice; when the Justices' positions are already obvious, a formal vote may be unnecessary. The vote at the Conference meeting is not final. Once draft opinions and memoranda "to the Conference" have begun to circulate, votes may change, and even the Court's decision may change....