Supreme Court Overrules Hurricane Sandy

The nation's capitol is closed in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy. But the Supreme Court will be reporting for duty.

The nation’s capitol is closed in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy. The federal and district governments are closed, as is the public transit system. But the Supreme Court will be reporting for duty.

Reuters (“Undeterred by storm, U.S. top court sticks to schedule“):

Hurricane Sandy may shut down much of the federal government and halt public transport in Washington, D.C., on Monday but it will be business as usual at the U.S. Supreme Court, where justices – appointed for life – pride themselves in all manner of staying power.

The country’s highest court is keeping to its oral-argument schedule and intends to hear cases through Wednesday, court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said late on Sunday.

“It was the decision of the chief justice in consultation with court officials,” Arberg said in a reference to Chief Justice John Roberts, who was appointed in 2005.

There is a tradition to this. In 1996, when a major snowstorm closed the federal government and brought Washington, D.C., to a near standstill, court arguments went on. Then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist, a Wisconsin native undeterred by snow and ruled by a strong sense of punctuality, made sure business that January 8 began on schedule.

Roberts, 57, who grew up in Indiana, was once a law clerk to Rehnquist, who died in 2005.

The justices are starting their second two-week round of arguments for the annual term, beginning on Monday with a foreign intelligence wiretap case and a copyright dispute. Non-emergency federal workers have been told to stay home on Monday.

Arberg said court officials would be monitoring the hurricane to determine whether safety factors might require a change in Tuesday’s or Wednesday’s schedule. Two cases are scheduled for each of those days.

During the January 1996 snowstorm, court officials picked up some of the justices in four-wheel-drive vehicles. Seven of the nine arrived on time for the 10 a.m. opening session. Justice David Souter eventually made it to the bench that Monday. Justice John Paul Stevens, who was in Florida at the time, did not. Both have since retired.

While my initial instinct was to applaud the Justices for their gritty defiance of Mother Nature, the reality here is that this is, at best, silly and, at worst, wildly irresponsible. It’s pretty easy for nine well-to-do Justices to make it in to work; it’s much harder for the large support staff, most of whom can’t afford to live close to the Court, much less have chauffeurs at their disposal. And what of litigants who are coming in from out of town?

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Quick Takes, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    While my initial instinct was to applaud the Justices for their gritty defiance of Mother Nature, the reality here is that this is, at best, silly and, at worst, wildly irresponsible.

    The little people just need to do what their betters tell them. God forbid one of them dies on the way to work. That would be sooooo inconvenient.

  2. Argon says:

    The Imperial Court?

    I agree. It’s easy for the justices to get there but very much less so for the peons who don’t have the benefit of chauffeurs, security, nannies for their kids and a whole bunch of related minders who have to scramble around in the mess.

  3. Anderson says:

    “And what of litigants who are coming in from out of town?”

    My first thought.

  4. And what of litigants who are coming in from out of town?

    Well think how much easier the cases are to decide if one of the parties isn’t there. Roberts is just bringing back trial by ordeal into the American judicial system.

  5. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Sometimes the most obvious points are the easiest ones to miss, especially for the Internet demographic. From the same article:

    Arberg said court officials would be monitoring the hurricane to determine whether safety factors might require a change in Tuesday’s or Wednesday’s schedule. Two cases are scheduled for each of those days.

    You didn’t really believe these people are dumb enough to put their own lives and the lives of others at risk, did you? Geez. As far as out-of-town litigants are concerned, they arrived days ago if not a week ago. SCOTUS arguments are not like teaching classes. People don’t waltz in at the last minute and wing it. Doesn’t work that way. Come on, clue in.

  6. Anderson says:

    People don’t waltz in at the last minute and wing it.

    Not to startle you unduly, but one can in fact practice for an oral argument at a different location than where one delivers the oral argument. It’s happened a few times.

  7. J-Dub says:

    Two judges didn’t make it in on time or at all in 1996 and are now off the court. Coincidence?

  8. Gustopher says:

    I really must applaud them for demonstrating that the judicial branch is separate from the executive branch, and cannot be limited by orders and recommendations coming out of the executive branch, such as “stay home you idiots, the cleanup from this storm is going to bad bad enough without having to deal with you being stuck by the side of the road or dead or something.”

    Bravo, idiots, you showed them.

  9. PD Shaw says:

    SCOTUS Blog reporting that Tuesday arguments have been postponed to Thursday.

  10. PD Shaw says:

    The highest courts view themselves as providing essential services that need to be maintained even when not in session or closed. Someone has to be available to rule on emergency petitions. So, I don’t think the question is entirely whether to close, but how many staff/justices are needed to maintain access to the court, and where will that access be provided? Its probably actually easier when the court is not in session, and an out-of-state justice like O’Connor could be appointed to handle such petitions with Arizona staff.