Even During Justices' Vacation, Supreme Court Is Working
By Jonathan Aiken/CNN
WASHINGTON (July 17) -- The Clinton Administration's request for a stay of the subpoena requiring Secret Service agents to testify before Independent Counsel Ken Starr's grand jury came during the summer recess of the Supreme Court, when more than half of the justices are out of town, but that fact won't stop the court from ruling on the request.
The mechanics of the decision are very simple: Chief Justice William Rehnquist could decide on his own whether or not to extend the stay blocking Secret Service testimony. Or he could contact the other justices for their opinions, no matter where they are.
It's not uncommon for Supreme Court justices to be out of town, or even out of the country, when a decision has to be made on an important case.
And these days, no one is really out of touch, especially Supreme Court justices. When a case comes along that requires their immediate attention, they can always be found.
"The emergency application is filed with the clerk of the Supreme Court," explained John Roberts, former Supreme Court law clerk. "That official makes sure it goes to the appropriate circuit justice. In a case from D.C., that's the chief justice of the United States. And they get it to them through the miracles of modern technology -- fax machines, whatever, wherever they happen to be. They don't have to be in Washington to act on it."
Things have changed since the days before fax machines, when Justice William Douglas kept a cabin with no telephone in Goose Berry, Wash.
"What you had to do was go up to this tree in Goose Berry, Washington, and attach your petition and your writs and then you'd come back a couple of days later and perhaps you would find that Justice Douglas has looked at it, and written his answer across the tree," said CNN Legal Analyst Roger Cossack. "And that's how you found Justice Douglas."
Nothing quite so rustic or romantic will happen here, however. The Clinton Administration will learn the chief justice's decision moments after he makes it.
It may be the tourist season in the capital, but the court's business doesn't stop even if its members decide to be tourists themselves.