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Crimes Against Justices and Cameras in the Court: What's the Link?

By Robyn Hagan Cain on May 18, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Justice Stephen Breyer can't catch a break.

Thursday, The Washington Post's Reliable Source column reported that Justice Breyer was robbed earlier this month. A housekeeper discovered the break-in May 4. No one was home at the time of the burglary, according to Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathleen Arberg.

If this feels like déjà vu, it's because Justice Breyer was also robbed in February at his home on the West Indies island of Nevis. The machete-wielding robber took approximately $1,000 in cash from Breyer, his wife, Joanna, and their guests. Thankfully, no one was injured.

Breyer is not the first Supreme Court crime victim, (though he may be the first to fall prey to robbers twice in a year). Justice David Souter was attacked while jogging in Washington, D.C. in 2004, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg was the victim of a purse-snatching in 1996. Justice Byron White, the only modern-day justice to be targeted for his role on the Court, was punched in the face while delivering a speech in 1982.

The justices do not receive Secret Service protection. Instead, the judicial arm of government has its own long arm of the law, the Supreme Court Police.

The Supreme Court Police is a relatively small force compared to the Secret Service and the Capitol Police. In 2004, there were only 125 officers; the Court asked for 12 additional officers in 2010 due to increased threats, according to The Hill. So far, most of the crimes against modern day justices have been random, rather than targeted, incidents. Most justices maintain some semblance of anonymity, even in D.C., so they avoid the volume of threats that plague hightly recognizable government officials.

Justice Clarence Thomas has testified before Congress in the past that one of the reasons the justices oppose cameras in the Court is that broadcasting hearings would draw more attention to the individuals on the Court, and compromise the justices' safety. Security experts agree, The New York Times reports.

Supreme Court justices are not as widely-recognized as their legislative and executive counterparts because their faces and sound bites are not a constant presence in the 24-hour news cycle. Television coverage, "can really increase someone's grievance or fixation, especially if we're dealing with someone who may not be mentally stable," Marisa Randazzo of Sigma Threat Management told The New York Times.

As Congress continues to debate measures to place cameras in the Court, budget hawks should remember that increased exposure to the Nine's day-to-day activities will have to be matched with increased appropriations for Supreme Court security.

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