A Man for This Season

My colleague Danny Jacobs’ article on the logistical headache the recent blizzard has given area courts reminded me of Jan. 8, 1996, when Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist refused to close the Supreme Court, even though the rest of the federal government had shut down due to a snowstorm.

Eight of the nine justices made it to the court, having been driven there by Supreme Court police in four-wheel drive vehicles. The only justice absent that day was John Paul Stevens, who could not make it back to Washington from his Florida home due to airline cancellations, The Washington Post reported the following day.

The court heard the three arguments scheduled for that Monday. The cases involved railroad, patent and copyright law. The lawyers arguing were either nearby Washington attorneys or out-of-towners who were staying in local hotels and who somehow made it to the court.

Attorney Carter G. Phillips, who argued one of the cases, told The Post that he had fortunately practiced his argument on Sunday, despite the impending snowstorm. “My wife must have told me a dozen times as I worked, ‘Why are you even looking at this? The court isn’t going to be in.”

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