Updated at 1:11 p.m.
At the U.S. Supreme Court, justice is blind. It was also apparently immune to fears that swept the East Coast over the weekend about the potentially devastating Hurricane Sandy.
The high court remained open this morning for arguments, even as the rest of the District of Columbia, including the federal government, and much of the region shut down in anticipation of the storm. Hurricane Sandy - which intensified overnight, according to the National Weather Service - is expected to hit the east coast today with heavy rain and strong winds.
Arguments at a packed Supreme Court began on time at 10 a.m., with all justices in attendance. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. made no reference to the storm brewing outside. The court announced today that arguments scheduled for tomorrow would be postponed to November 1, however.
Aside from the Supreme Court, the city’s other courts, federal and local, were closed. The District of Columbia Superior Court completely shut down, meaning anyone arrested and awaiting arraignment will be held by police until the court reopens. Court spokeswoman Leah Gurowitz said that a full shutdown is rare, with the last time being the “Snowmageddon” in February 2010. A judge is on-call for emergency situations, she said.
Temporary protection orders set to expire today will be extended until the next day that Superior Court is open, according to Gurowitz. Individuals in need of such an order today should contact the Metropolitan Police Department, she added. Superior Court's electronic filing system is operational.
The federal courthouse in downtown Washington was closed, with proceedings before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit postponed. A U.S. District Court magistrate judge will be available to handle emergencies, according to a court representative.
The courts’ closure meant other agencies were off the hook. With lawyers no longer needed to handle arraignments in Superior Court, the local U.S. attorney’s office was closed, according to spokesman William Miller. The city’s Office of the Attorney General also closed. A U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson was not immediately available for comment today, but the department sent a notice this morning canceling several events in New York and Washington.
The electronic filing system is still operational for the District’s federal court, but case processing, such as assigning new cases a number and a judge, will have to wait until the clerk’s office reopens, a court representative said.
Hurricane Sandy is expected to cause flooding, wind-damage and widespread power outages. President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency yesterday in the District, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut and today in Delaware.
The District of Columbia government closed today, with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority suspending all rail and bus service until further notice.
With the general election just over a week away, a spokesperson for the Federal Election Commission could not be reached this morning to comment on how the closure might affect preparations. President Barack Obama returned to Washington this morning from the campaign trail to monitor the storm, and, according to The Washington Post, Republican nominee Mitt Romney is monitoring the storm as well and had cancelled campaign events scheduled for tonight and tomorrow.
At a press conference this afternoon, Obama said Sandy would be a "big and powerful storm" and pleaded with residents in the hurricane's path to heed warnings and follow instructions from state and local authorities. "When they tell you to evacuate, you need to evacuate," he said. "Do not delay, don't pause, don't question the instructions that are being given because this is a serious storm and it could potentially have fatal consequences." Asked about how the storm would affect the upcoming election, he said it was not a concern at the moment. "The election will take care of itself next week," he said.
Representatives of other federal regulatory agencies, including the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, could not be reached for comment on how the storm closures would affect operations.
Mike Scarcella and Don Tartaglione contributed to this report. National Law Journal photo by Mike Scarcella.