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FTC to Congress: Do More to Protect the Justices

Following news that a Maryland man who was planning a domestic terror attack searched online about Supreme Court justices’ protection, Fix the Court sent a letter today to Reps. Mike Quigley and Tom Graves, the chairman and ranking member of the House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee, requesting they increase funding for the justices’ security – and consider round-the-clock coverage – both in Washington and when the nine travel outside the city.

While on court grounds and elsewhere in D.C., the justices are generally protected by the Supreme Court Police Department; outside the capital, it’s the responsibility of the U.S. Marshals Service to protect them. However, that USMS protection is opt-in only, as it is up to each justice to tell court personnel when and to where they are traveling. Should a justice want protection, court officials then reach out to USMS to coordinate with its field offices on coverage.

With the House Appropriations subcommittee soon to schedule hearings on high court funding for FY20, FTC is asking its leaders to engage with the justices and other court personnel on this matter in order to ascertain the gaps in protection and the potential need for additional funding.

Following the death of Justice Scalia, at which time he was not being protected by USMS, and the local field office was not apprised of his travels, FTC submitted a FOIA request asking for the protocols for when the agency protects justices and for all of the USMS-accompanied justice travel in July 2015. (We picked a month at random.)

The results of that FOIA yielded valuable information: first, it confirmed (pp. 1-2) that justices’ protection in opt-in only (10.9.C.1.b: protection occurs “to the extent that the justice permits”); and second, that during the summer of 2015, sadly, there were active threats against at least one of the justices (p. 79 and this link).

“The potential for a worst-case scenario with the justices has not abated,” FTC executive director Gabe Roth wrote in the letter. “We live in a time in which intermittent coverage is not good enough; if the President, Vice President and Speaker of the House are afforded round-the-clock coverage, so, too, should the justices of the Supreme Court.”

Last May, FTC included a question on this topic in its tracking poll. Fifty-six percent of Americans said that Supreme Court justices should be required to have round-the-clock protection like the President, Vice-President and Speaker (p. 5), while 37 percent said they oppose round-the-clock protection.

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