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Better late than never: Garland orders US Marshals to protect SCOTUS justices as conference begins

It took letters from several senators and two governors, but Merrick Garland finally decided to do his job. Late yesterday, the Department of Justice announced that the Attorney General had ordered action taken to protect the security of Supreme Court justices, tasking the US Marshals Service for “safety.”

It’s several days late and still isn’t entirely responsive, but at least it’s a start:

Attorney General Merrick Garland has ordered the U.S. Marshals Service to ensure the safety of Supreme Court justices amid protests sparked by a leaked draft opinion that would overturn Roe vs. Wade.

“The Attorney General directed the U.S. Marshals Service to help ensure the Justices’ safety by providing additional support to the Marshal of the Supreme Court and Supreme Court Police,” the Justice Department said in a press release Wednesday.

The statement did not add further details about the security measures, noting that Garland “continues to be briefed on security matters related to the Supreme Court and Supreme Court Justices.”

Ordering a personal protection detail should have been a Day One step from Garland. When radical activists began publicizing the GPS location data for the homes of Supreme Court justices several days ago, that became a clear safety risk. However, the DoJ had more tools at its disposal than just a PP detail. The protesters should have been arrested for violating 18 USC 1507, which specifically and explicitly forbids such demonstrations at the homes of federal judges, and for very good reasons.

In fact, that was the main demand in these letters sent to Garland — to enforce that federal law and put an abrupt halt to the intimidation campaign. Tom Cotton’s letter threatened impeachment over dereliction of duty as a result of Garland’s inaction. Impeachment might be a heavy lift even if Republicans take back both chambers of Congress, but still might be warranted. Garland can expect a lot of hostile questioning over this the next time he has to appear before a congressional committee. Imagine how much worse it would have been had a violent act occurred involving these justices’ families. Garland has been playing with fire for more than a week, and he’s not likely to escape burn-free.

The PP details will come in handy today as the court comes back into a normally scheduled conference. It’s the first in-person meeting since the leak of Justice Samuel Alito’s 98-page draft majority opinion in Dobbs, and they have a number of issues to discuss that aren’t related to cases pending before the court:

The justices plan to discuss pending petitions and outstanding cases — but they’re also likely to grapple with the aftermath of that remarkable breach of the court’s confidential operations. While the draft opinion calling for the reversal of a near-50-year-old landmark precedent stunned the country, the leak itself stunned the court.

Chief Justice John Roberts quickly ordered the marshal of the court — Col. Gail A. Curley — to begin an internal investigation, but sources familiar with how the court operates say the inquiry could lead to uncomfortable privacy issues, trigger further tension and erode trust as the justices work furiously to resolve cases concerning some of the most important social issues of the day regarding abortion, gun rights, religious liberty and the environment. Curley serves as the court’s chief security officer and manages the Supreme Court Police Force. …

Sources familiar with the court say that unless the leaker has left obvious traces, such an inquiry could be a delicate enterprise, raising complicated questions about how far Curley can delve into the workings of each chamber.

If the marshal’s mandate includes an invasive look into the electronic communications of each chamber at a time when the justices are still reeling from the leak and worried about the confidentiality of their inner deliberations, the investigation could serve more to raise tensions than calm nerves and her task could prove daunting.

It could get ugly, but the leak of the draft opinion and the leaks that followed are even uglier. The justices may be highly motivated enough to find the original leaker that their reticence to allow investigators access will be overcome by the disgust over what has transpired. I’d be surprised, though, if it will take that level of probing to figure this out. Sensitive documents usually have some sort of tracing capabilities, a strategy one would assume the Supreme Court had long adopted. If not, then perhaps this Supreme Court marshal needs to be replaced.

Watch carefully what the justices do today, in any event. If they want to rip the Band-Aid off completely, they’ll issue a per curiam order on Dobbs to end speculation on the outcome of the case and release the opinion, dissents, and concurrences later. It’s the Ex parte Quirin option and their easiest way to put an end to the intimidation campaigns outside their houses. Clearly Garland isn’t going to do it, so they may as well get this over with.

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