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December 13, 2019

Security for U.S. Supreme Court Justices

Enhancements on the way

Update: Reauthorizing Security for Supreme Court Justices Act of 2019 became public law number 116-75 on November 27, 2019. For the full text of the law, click here.


Legislation aimed at improving security for U.S. Supreme Court justices at home and abroad is ready for consideration by the House of Representatives and the Senate. H.R. 4258 (Stanton, D-AZ) and S. 2511 (Graham, R-SC) would permanently authorize security for Supreme Court Justices and their official guests when they are on the grounds of the Court and wherever they travel. The companion bills, which were introduced with bipartisan support in September, were both approved by their respective Judiciary Committees on voice vote last month.

The legislation, which was drafted in response to concerns raised by Supreme Court security personnel, proposes two straightforward, common sense improvements to current law: it permanently authorizes the Marshal of the Supreme Court to provide security for justices and their official guests, and expands the authorization that currently only provides security within the states to include security during international travel.

Security for justices outside of the United States first became an issue in 2012 when Justice Stephen Breyer was confronted by robber in the Caribbean island of Nevis. According to Scotus Map, a website that tracks events attended by the justices, five justices have made eight known appearances outside the country this year.

The ABA adopted comprehensive policy regarding the need for enhanced federal court security in 2005. Among other things, the policy recognizes the need to periodically examine whether additional improvements or enhancements to judicial security programs are necessary and urges Congress to consult with the judicial branch and to provide adequate funding for judicial security programs.

In an October 21, 2019, letter to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, ABA President Judy Perry Martinez commended the Committee for advancing these goals and praised the legislation, stating, “These changes will simplify the procedure for requesting security abroad, eliminate a redundant task for Congress, and assure that the Justices always have access to security.”

Passage of the legislation by the House and Senate is expected before the current Supreme Court security authorization lapses on December 29, 2019.

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