Fix the Court filed suit today against the U.S. Department of Justice in D.C. District Court for failing to fulfill a 16-month-old Freedom of Information Act request that sought U.S. Marshals Service guidelines for accompanying and protecting Supreme Court justices when they travel outside of Washington, as well as records related to the justices’ summer travel and to Justice Antonin Scalia’s Feb. 2016 trip to Texas.
This request 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.
“The public should be confident that Supreme Court justices are well-protected, both inside their building and when they venture out into the world,” FTC executive director Gabe Roth said. “While we’re not looking for any proprietary information about the justices’ protection, we shouldn’t have to wait for a tragedy to ensure that modern security protocols have been implemented.”
***Read the complaint here.***
On June 28, 2016 , FTC requested “(1) the written USMS guidelines that describe the circumstances under which a member of USMS staff will accompany a justice on a trip outside of Washington; (2) all documents […] that contain information relating to trips outside of Washington, on which members of USMS accompanied justices between July 1, 2015, and July 31, 2015, including the name of the justice (sitting or retired) who took each trip and the dates of each trip, the location, either U.S. or foreign city or airport, from which and to which that justice traveled and the cost to the USMS for accompanying the justices on each of these trips; and (3) all documents […] that contain information relating to Justice Antonin Scalia’s travel to Texas in February 2016.”
Since 1982, the U.S. Marshals Service, which is part of the Justice Department, and the Supreme Court Police have shared the duty of protecting the justices when they leave the high court grounds, though the USMS and the high court have been tight-lipped about their security protocols.
Fix the Court’s interest in these arrangements was renewed by Scalia’s sudden death at a ranch near El Paso last year. It was reported at the time that though the late justice was accompanied by U.S. marshals on the first leg of his trip, from Washington to Houston, he declined security for his chartered flight from Houston to western Texas and while he stayed on the ranch. Additional press reports have indicated that the justices are often without security when they travel both around D.C. and around the world, though it is unclear if that is due to their lack of interest in being protected or a lack of resources.
The justices, who along with other judicial officers lobby for their annual congressional appropriation, have in years past advocated for increased funding for security, typically in the form of additional Supreme Court Police officers; unsurprisingly, their efforts to increase funding have been most acute – and most successful – following a security breach. For example, it was after Justice Byron White was punched during a 1982 speech in Utah that Congress moved to approve Chief Justice Warren Burger’s request for the Supreme Court Police to be given greater latitude to protect the justices. After Justices Harry Blackmun and Lewis Powell received death threats in 1985, Burger requested that his colleagues be d/riven to work as an additional security measure.
At press time, the FY18 funding request for the Supreme Court Police remained unknown, as it was not presented as a line item in the federal courts’ most recent public budget proposal (Appendix A).
Public attention regarding judicial officers’ security has been in abatement in the years following the murder of federal Judge Joan Lefkow’s husband and mother in Feb. 2005 by a disturbed man whose case the judge had dismissed. During testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee three months later, Lefkow asserted that “something is wrong in the judicial protection arena.” (Soon after, Congress appropriated nearly $12 million “for increased judicial security outside of courthouse facilities, including home intrusion detection systems for federal judges.”)
That Judge John Roll of the District of Arizona was killed in the same 2011 incident in which then-Rep. Gabby Giffords was wounded did not prompt any broad public discussion of judges’ security; neither did the fact that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was robbed in 1996, Justice David Souter was attacked while jogging in 2004, and two of Justice Stephen Breyer’s residences were burglarized in 2012.
Officials in the third branch are not the only public servants at risk, of course. This past June, Rep. Steve Scalise was injured by gunfire during an early morning practice for the annual congressional baseball game. That same month the head of the Secret Service told the press that his agents pursue “six to eight threat reports each day,” roughly the same number they followed during the Obama years.
“I’m hoping our records request compels the high court and the Justice Department to reexamine their security procedures in light of present-day threats,” Roth concluded.
 In an effort to reduce search time for USMS and costs for FTC, we requested here that only a single month of the justices’ trips be chronicled. In an earlier FOIA (May 26, 2016), we had asked that all 2015 trips be listed, and for that we were given an absurd quote of $4,560 for search time, so we then decided to narrow the request.