Undeterred by storm, U.S. top court sticks to schedule

WASHINGTON Sun Oct 28, 2012 11:04pm EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - 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.

Arberg said she was unaware of any justices who would not make it in on Monday.

(Editing by Howard Goller and Christopher Wilson)

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