Does The Secret Service Protect Supreme Court Justices?
Not By Design; And Only If The President Orders Them to
By Dell Hill
Who's responsible for protecting the Supreme Court justices from harm? This question was just one of several that arose during our earlier post concerning the nation’s highest court.
people would guess that the responsibility lies with the Secret Service
uniform division, perhaps, but that’s not the case. In fact, unless
the President issues an executive order, the Secret Service has nothing
to do with security for the Supreme Court Justices.
This piece from Slate answers a few of our questions:
“Perhaps a bit surprisingly, the U.S. Secret Service, whose protectees
include a galaxy of other Beltway power players, has nothing to do with
the court personnel. Instead, the task of safeguarding the nine
justices falls to the Supreme Court Police, a 125-person force that's
also charged with securing the court building and grounds. Though the
court has long had security guards, a separate police department wasn't
formally created by Congress until 1949. However, the law that set up
the force specified that the officers' duties should consist solely of
patrolling the Supreme Court building and its surroundings. The Supreme
Court cops were not authorized to carry guns or to make arrests outside
of their tiny Washington jurisdiction. If a justice required or
requested a bodyguard, they were either provided with a federal marshal or a member of the Supreme Court Police was temporarily deputized as a marshal.
May of 1982, however, then-Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, citing a
rise in "terrorist activities, assassination attempts, and street
crime," asked Congress to give Supreme Court Police officers more
marshallike powers. Burger's cause received an important boost that
July, when Justice Byron White was assaulted as he delivered a speech to
the Utah Bar Association. The only security personnel present were
employees of the hotel where the address was taking place, and audience
members had to come to White's rescue. (The attacker, a 57-year-old man
from Kaysville, Utah, screamed "Busing and pornography don't go!" as he
slugged the justice; White, who had been a star tailback at the
University of Colorado, finished his speech, quipping, "I've been hit
harder than that before in Utah.")
swiftly heeded Burger's wishes, and since then Supreme Court Police
officers have been available to guard the justices wherever they may
roam. However, when the justices travel around the country, they are
sometimes protected by federal marshals rather than Supreme Court cops.
Whether a marshal is assigned in lieu of a Supreme Court Police officer
depends on the staffing situation at the court building and on who is
arranging the trip—if it's another branch of the government, they'll
usually provide a marshal or two.”
the whacked out world that we live in; where taking the life of a
Supreme Court Justice one disagrees with seems like a viable endeavor,
it would seem reasonable to me to have all nine of the justices
protected - especially with the Obamacare case before the court.
this point, we don’t know if that has happened, but we do know that the
court has requested an increase in funding over the past ten to fifteen
years, and that additional funding request was due, in part, to
as the publicity surrounding oral arguments in the Obamacare case gets
ratcheted up, we’ll learn the answer to our question.