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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Does The Secret Service Protect Supreme Court Justices?

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.

Most 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.

In 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.")

Congress 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.”

Given 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.

At 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 security issues.

Perhaps, as the publicity surrounding oral arguments in the Obamacare case gets ratcheted up, we’ll learn the answer to our question.

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