Souter Update

Attack on Souter shows justices’ minimal security (USA Today)

In the public mind, Supreme Court justices reside within the cloister of marble walls. So when Justice David Souter was assaulted over the weekend, it made headlines and raised questions about the security of the nine members of the nation’s highest court.


He is not the first justice who has been attacked in recent years.

In 1996, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s purse was snatched as she was returning home from a Georgetown restaurant. She was shaken up but not harmed.

In 1985, a bullet shattered a window at the suburban Virginia apartment of Justice Harry Blackmun. Police said it appeared to be a random shot fired from a long distance.

One of the more startling attacks occurred in Salt Lake City in 1982, when Justice Byron White was punched in the head by a man who rushed up from the audience during a speech. White was not seriously hurt. As he went on with his speech, White, a former football star who played for the University of Colorado, reportedly said, “I’ve been hit harder than that before in Utah.”

When justices make speeches or attend functions in their official capacity, they are accompanied by court police officers or U.S. marshals. But in their daily lives, they go about their business mostly on their own. It is not unusual to see a justice alone in a grocery store or with family at a theater. Chief Justice William Rehnquist is the only one of the nine who has a car and driver to take him to the court. The court police force has steadily grown since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and now has 125 officers.

“In their official duties, the justices are provided security,” Arberg said. “Beyond that, we don’t discuss the specifics of security.”

The justices’ security is more akin to that provided senior leaders in Congress, who are sometimes accompanied by Capitol Police officers, than to that at the White House. The president, the vice president and selected other members of the executive branch, including national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, have Secret Service protection.

People get mugged, especially in big cities, especially at night, especially when they’re not careful. And there’s no reason to believe Souter was targetted because he was a Justice. I don’t have any problem with taxpayer funded security for the Supremes if they want it; my guess is most of them don’t want the hassle that comes with that.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. M.Murcek says:

    It’s said a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged. Let’s wait and see…