A look inside the U.S. Supreme Court

  • A guard stands on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, Oct. 5, 2015.
  • Television journalists prepare for a news conference on the plaza in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building, in Washington, June 9, 2016.
  • Daniel Agbleze waters flowers in one of the four inner courtyards at the Supreme Court in Washington, June 6, 2016.
  • U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan walks with her clerks in one of the four inner courtyards at the Supreme Court building in Washington, June 20, 2016.
  • U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy delivers a lecture for visiting international attorneys in the West Conference Room at the Supreme Court building in Washington, June 20, 2016.
  • Tourists pass a large statue of John Marshall, who served as the fourth Chief Justice of the United States, at the U.S. Supreme Court building on the first day of the court’s new term in Washington, Oct. 5, 2015.
  • U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas talks in his chambers at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, June 6, 2016.
  • U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas jokes with his clerks as he describes their decision-making process in his chambers at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, June 6, 2016.
  • A collection of Supreme Court bobblehead dolls and a football signed by Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly are seen among law books in U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts’s private study at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, June 15, 2016.
  • Dappled light falls across books shelved in the library at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, Jan. 28, 2016.
  • U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer looks for a favourite volume of Proust in his rare book collection in his chambers at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, June 8, 2016.
  • Visitors sit on a marble bench under a portrait of former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis at the U.S. Supreme Court building on the first day of the court’s new term in Washington, Oct. 5, 2015.
  • A circular staircase is seen in the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, Jan. 28, 2016.
  • Winter light streams into the formal East Conference Room at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, Jan. 28, 2016.
  • U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts eats a bowl of soup as he sits down to lunch with his team of clerks in his private study at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, June 15, 2016.
  • A marble staircase leads down to an elevator at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, Oct. 5, 2015.
  • Elevator operator Johnnie Bacon, from Washington, smiles at a passenger as he tends one of the elevators in the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, April 4, 2016.
  • U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg shows the many different collars (jabots) she wears with her robes, in her chambers, at the Supreme Court building in Washington, June 17, 2016.
  • U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg shows the many different collars (jabots) she wears with her robes, in her chambers at the Supreme Court building in Washington, June 17, 2016.
  • U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg shows the many different collars (jabots) she wears with her robes, in her chambers, at the Supreme Court building in Washington, June 17, 2016.
  • Red velvet drapes hang at the back of the courtroom at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, June 20, 2016.
  • A notice is seen on a lectern, which faces the bench and where lawyers stand to argue, in the courtroom of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, April 4, 2016.
  • A small seating chart of the justices greets attorneys when they argue a case at the Supreme Court building in Washington, June 20, 2016.
  • Name plates mark the spaces reserved for justices’ families in the courtroom of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, April 4, 2016.
  • The traditional gift of a symbolic feather quill pen greets attorneys when they argue a case at the Supreme Court building in Washington, June 20, 2016.
  • Reporters wait for the release of the text of the justices’ opinions, timed to match the readings of the decisions from the bench, at the Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. June 6, 2016.
  • People hold umbrellas on a rainy day at the plaza by the Supreme Court in Washington, Nov. 10, 2015.
  • The front columns at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, Oct. 5, 2015.

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Few get access beyond the ropes of Washington’s hallowed Supreme Court building, but Reuters’ photographer Jonathan Ernst was granted a rare opportunity to explore the halls with his camera over the the last year. His lens caught the justices as they mingled, and captured private meetings, candid moments, jokes, wardrobes and more.

After the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia in February, the eight member panel has been deadlocked as Congressional Republicans refuse to grant President Barack Obama’s recommended new justice, Merrick Garland, a hearing, even though the public, conservatives and fellow justices have called for it. Until it’s resolved, the controversial issue makes it likely many cases will end in a 4-4 split. On Thursday, the Supreme Court was stuck in one such a stalemate while ruling on an overhaul of immigration policy, subsequently blocking President Obama’s halting of deportations.

Supreme Court justices are faced with many public challenges, but these photographs focus on the private moments that go unseen. Behind the tense proceedings, the partisan headlines, and the velvet curtains that envelope the courtroom is a tight-knit community free of constant contest. After all, Scalia was a great example of how friendships can extend beyond party lines, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg fondly remembers.

For more feature photography, go to msnbc.com/photography.

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