By Alex Zank
A chief responsibility for the U.S. Supreme Court police is the protection of justices, staff and visitors at the high court--inside the building itself and on the grounds.
But what about when justices step away from 1 First Street N.E.?
Federal law gives Supreme Court police the authority to work in any state to protect justices and staff—but that power expires December 29, 2013. In fact, the Supreme Court police don’t have permanent authority to serve and protect in any state.
Every so often, then, Congress takes up a measure to extend the authority of the Supreme Court police to work away from the high court grounds. A bill introduced in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday would grant that authority to the high court police force until the end of 2019.
Representative Mel Watt (D-N.C.) referred to the bill as “common sense legislation” during a hearing Wednesday. Other members of the committee shared similar sentiments before the committee, on a voice vote, passed the bill.
Every now and then, the safety and security of justices—away from the high court—pops up in the headlines.
In 2009, the BLT reported on a process server who walked up to Chief Justice John Roberts Jr.’s front door to serve him papers. Then, of course, there was the time last year when Justice Stephen Breyer was robbed at knife-point while vacationing in the Caribbean. (Breyer was a victim of burglary only a couple of months later at his home in Georgetown.)
Justice David Souter was mugged while jogging at night in D.C. in 2004, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had her purse snatched in 1996, also in D.C.
The Supreme Court police authority to protect staff and justices has been extended seven times. A question arose at Wednesday’s hearing about why the authority hasn’t yet been made permanent. In other words, why all these extensions?
House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said making the Supreme Court police’s authority permanent had been tried once. In 2000, the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would have made the authority permanent. The Senate, however, extended the authority only until 2004.
Watt said he’d support making it permanent. And Representative George Holding (R-N.C.), who sponsored the latest bill, said in an interview he would also support permanent extension.
“Having to keep renewing this, it’s just not good government,” Holding said.
Not every Judiciary Committee member, however, expressed support for making the authority permanent. Representative Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) said he doesn’t support a bill granting the Supreme Court police permanent authority to protect justices and officials away from the high court’s grounds.
Barring resistance in the full House or Senate, it looks like the guardians of the Constitution will still have their guardians. For at least another six years.
Contact Alex Zank at firstname.lastname@example.org.