SUPREME COURT NOTEBOOK: Justices’ security focus of lawsuit

October 23, 2017

In this June 20, 2016 photo, a Supreme Court police officer stands in front of the Supreme Court in Washington. The security of the Supreme Court justices is the subject of a lawsuit filed in Washington, which stems from "the concern, which has only grown in recent months, that the justices may not have adequate security at a time when threats against public figures are on the rise." (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Last month, Justice Stephen Breyer was confronted at a Washington-area airport by a reporter for a celebrity website who asked him about his favorite books and movies. In video of the interaction , Breyer looks mildly amused. The two men with him don’t.

Those somber folks, his security detail, are the subject of a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Washington. Gabe Roth, executive director of court transparency group Fix the Court, wants to know more about the justices’ protection when they leave Washington.

Roth submitted a Freedom of Information Act request more than a year ago seeking information about the justices’ 2015 travels, making the request a few months after Justice Antonin Scalia died while on a hunting trip in Texas. While at a resort ranch there, Scalia had declined protection from the U.S. Marshals Service, which shares responsibility for the justices’ security with Supreme Court police.

Roth says he wants to see the guidelines that explain the circumstances under which marshals travel with a justice outside of Washington, information about the out-of-town trips the justices took accompanied by marshals in July 2015 and information about Scalia’s Texas trip. Roth says he paid a $240 fee associated with his request, but hasn’t yet received information.

For the record, at the airport, Breyer recommended the “The Big Sick.” He said one of his top three movies of all time was “Groundhog Day.”


Speaking of justices’ travel, Justice Sonia Sotomayor was in and around New York City last week, where she gently called out Chief Justice John Roberts, though not by name.

Roberts had told senators at his 2005 confirmation hearing that “judges are like umpires” and “I will remember that it’s my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.”

At Hofstra University , Sotomayor said an umpire’s job, and by extension a judge’s, was not as limited as Roberts suggested. “There was an analogy by one of my colleagues that judging was like baseball, you call balls and strikes,” she said. “Watch the game tonight and whether a ball is on that line or not is a judgment call.”

At the same event, Sotomayor also restated her opposition to allowing cameras into Supreme Court proceedings, and in the process, misstated how quickly the court makes available audio of arguments.

“We give out audio tapes of our arguments that same night,” Sotomayor said. In fact, the court has rejected every request for the release of audio the day of arguments since the March 2015 argument in a landmark same-sex marriage case. Audio from arguments made Mondays through Wednesdays is available on the court’s website on the Friday of that week.


At least Sotomayor’s talk was open to the public.

Roberts and Justice Breyer both spoke last week to a closed-door conference of federal judges in Rockport, Maine.

Most of the federal appeals courts that hold conferences every year or two allow reporters to cover speeches by prominent people, including Supreme Court justices.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit has different policy, according to circuit executive Susan Goldberg. Its meetings are off limits to the media, even when two of the nine justices are speaking on the same day.

The circuit includes the federal courts in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico.


Follow Jessica Gresko on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jessicagresko and Mark Sherman on Twitter at https://twitter.com/shermancourt

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