How many push-ups can RBG do? Probably more than you can.

How do federal judges maintain taut abs and tight buns underneath their robes? They all have their own special methods.

For some, it’s about diet. Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, for example, has a four-word diet: “Few carbs, less sugar.”

Other judges believe in aerobic exercise. The ranks of runners include retired Justice David H. Souter, whose exercise regimen turned him into a judicial hottie (“Certiorari is GRANTED to that hot, lean body!”); Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson (4th Cir.), whose failure to cross train got critcized by President Bush during a Supreme Court interview; Judge Denny Chin (2d Cir.), a veteran marathoner; and Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain (9th Cir.), my former boss.

But maybe running is for wimps? For the women of One First Street, weight training is the order of the day. Let’s meet the personal trainer helping two of the justices get HUGE….

Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was known for leading law clerks in morning aerobics classes back when she was on the Court. But some questioned the intensity of the workouts. In the words of one former SCOTUS clerk, “The work-outs were pretty half-hearted. If I went to her aerobics session in the morning, I’d need to work out all over again, later in the day!” [FN1]

Few would question the intensity of the exercise programs of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Elena Kagan. As we noted in Morning Docket, the Washington Post just profiled Bryant Johnson, the badass ex-military man who trains two-thirds of the women on the Court.

(As for the third, I’m not sure how Justice Sotomayor works off the arroz, gandules y pernil. Maybe through dancing the mambo?)

Here’s a bit about Bryant Johnson’s background, per the Post:

By day, Johnson is a records manager in the clerk’s office of the District’s federal court, curating obscure files and trying to avoid paper cuts. In the evening, he drives up the hill — Capitol Hill — to do squats with Ginsburg or take punches from her colleague, Justice Elena Kagan, in the Supreme Court’s ground-floor gym.

Taking punches from Justice Kagan — isn’t that Chief Justice Roberts’s job?

Bryant Johnson, 48, is a sizable African-American male who used to be a military parachuter. As Ann Marimow points out in the profile, Johnson cuts quite a figure next to Justice Ginsburg:

Ginsburg and Johnson are an unlikely pair, the world-class lawyer and her physical powerhouse of a trainer. He stands an inch shy of 6 feet, weighs 206 pounds and can pump out 84 push-ups in two minutes. She’s just over 5 feet and just over 100 pounds — and she has passed her own milestone on the green mat.

“When I started, I looked like a survivor of Auschwitz,” Ginsburg said in an interview. “Now I’m up to 20 push-ups.”

There might be a joke somewhere in there, but I’m not going near the Auschwitz reference. Instead, I’m going to put out conflicting evidence in the record about RBG’s ability to do push-ups. This is from page 63 of Jeffrey Toobin’s newest bestseller, The Oath (affiliate link):

Whether the number is 20 or 25 push-ups, it’s still impressive. In addition, in his recent New Yorker profile of Justice Ginsburg, Toobin reports that after RBG uses one particular machine with a weight stack of “6,” Justice Breyer has to lower it to “5” when he sits down.

Back to the Post profile:

“I never thought I’d be able to do any of this,” said Ginsburg, who turned 80 on Friday and has survived a second bout with cancer since she began training all those years ago, this time in her pancreas. “I attribute my well-being to our meetings twice a week. It’s essential.”

Hmm…. so if you’re one of the liberals out there who’s annoyed or even angry at Justice Ginsburg for not stepping down yet, maybe you should direct some of your ire in the direction of Bryant Johnson. (My colleague Elie Mystal belongs in that camp; as he just Gchatted me, “Jesus Christ, she should step down now, so Obama doesn’t have to nominate her replacement during the midterms or as a lame duck. RBG is really pissing me off.”)

Fewer people will have problems with Johnson’s work with Justice Kagan. As the Post points out, “Kagan has lost weight since she joined the bench in 2010, through a combination of boxing sessions with Johnson and diet.” I have noticed how svelte Lady Kaga has been looking lately; now I know why.

(The Supreme Court agrees with so many people. See also Justice Samuel Alito, who looks thinner and even younger since joining the Court. Word on the street is that it’s Martha-Ann Alito who’s responsible for her husband’s transformation; she makes sure that he eats healthily and exercises.)

Here is what Justice Ginsburg does when she works out with Johnson:

Johnson meets Ginsburg in the justices-only gym (there is another for clerks and other employees). Both of them wear sweats and sneakers. Their hour-long sessions start slowly with a warm-up on the elliptical machine. They move through stretching and weight training and balancing exercises with a rubber fitness ball.

When it’s time for push-ups, Johnson stands guard over Ginsburg, bending down with hands poised to catch her in case her arms give out. “Think of the paperwork I’d have to fill out if something happened to you,” he likes to say.

Don’t worry, Bryant. Justice Ginsburg has beaten cancer, escaped from a smoky plane (by sliding down the emergency chute), and gone mano-a-mano with Justice Antonin Scalia for decades (even though the two are on good terms personally). She’s tougher than she looks.

How did Bryant build his Article III clientele? Through word of mouth:

It was one of Johnson’s workout buddies at the courthouse who suggested that he turn his passion for fitness into a business. He began with a colleague from the clerk’s office, but word quickly spread through the courthouse. His client list over the years reads like a who’s who of the federal bench in Washington: Hogan, as well as U.S. District Judges Ellen S. Huvelle, Emmet G. Sullivan and Gladys Kessler.

It was Kessler who sent Ginsburg to Johnson. Ginsburg, in turn, referred Kagan to him.

The Post piece is a fun read. Check it out here.

Congratulations to Bryant Johnson on all his success. Having two out of nine Supreme Court justices as clients is no small feat. And if cameras ever come to the courtroom at One First Street, which is unlikely but not impossible, expect that number to increase.

[FN1] Justice O’Connor isn’t the only federal judge who has taught aerobics. As we’ve mentioned before, Judge Consuelo Callahan (9th Cir.) was an instructor at Jack La Lanne Fitness in Stockton, California, and Judge Kathleen Cardone (W.D. Tex.) led classes at EP Fitness in El Paso, Texas.

Personal trainer Bryant Johnson’s clients include two Supreme Court justices [Washington Post]

Earlier: The Eyes of the Law: But Can He Outrun Justice Souter?


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