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Do Supreme Court Justices Need Better Security?

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

After his last meal, Justice Antonin Scalia stood up to retire for the evening.

"He stood up and said he was tired, he had had a long week and he would see us in the morning," said John Poindexter, who discovered Scalia's body the next morning two years ago.

Newly released security documents show that story could have ended differently. Marshals, responsible for protecting Supreme Court justices, did not show up for hours after his death.

Judicial Security

According to records secured by a watchdog group, Supreme Court justices receive security protection during domestic trips outside Washington, D.C. only when they request it. The security documents reveal that marshals did not even know Scalia's health was failing when he passed away at a Texas ranch.

They also give an inside look at how justices have broad discretion about when they receive protection. According to reports, Scalia didn't want the marshals with him at the ranch.

Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court, said the lack of security requirements is troubling given potential threats and the "fading health" of several of the aging justices.

"That the justices can decline protection when they travel to the most far-flung places in the country does not seem appropriate given the expansive reach and resources of the U.S. Marshals Service and the fact that so many justices choose to remain on the bench well into old age," he said.

Justices Threatened

The security documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, disclose that justices have been threatened. Names were redacted, but the records suggest that after receiving threats Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor requested security on trips to New York and Massachusetts.

Drew Wade, spokesman for the U.S. Marshals, said the agency takes its responsibility "very seriously."

"While we do not discuss our specific security measures, we continuously review the security measures in place for all federal judges and take appropriate steps to provide additional protection when it is warranted," he told RollCall.

The ezine reported that Supreme Court police handle protection for the justices in Washington, and coordinate security for their international travel. The marshals takes care of security for domestic travel outside the capitol.

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