Inside the Supreme Court trial: Seized phones, affidavits and distrust

Marshall handed over the presiding inquiry to Mrs. Curley, whose task was to “Oys, Oys, Oys!” That’s crying. As the judges entered the courtroom. He is a respected ex-army Lawyer, but his department lacked the investigative muscle of other government agencies, lacked subpoena power and had a staff only partially dedicated to security. Others on his team handled court administrative tasks such as staffing events and handling mail.

debt…US Army, via Associated Press

But Chief Justice Roberts was a staunch defender of the independence of the court, not averse to outside interference. “of the Judiciary Power to manage its internal affairs,” he wrote months earlier, “insulates the courts from undue political influence and is critical to protecting public confidence in its mission as a separate and co-equal branch of government.”

As soon as the clerks’ interview began, a confusion emerged. No one wants to appear uncooperative as if they have something to hide. The court’s written code of conduct states that judges “expect and demand absolute loyalty to their own law clerks and to the clerks of all other judges.” The rift between a clerk and his justice can have immediate and lasting effects, according to interviews with those who held one-year positions and advisers from last year’s class. The job depends on proximity to the justices, the ability to sway the voices and opinions of employers.

Benefits accrued in one year in court can compound over decades. For those who go to law firms, signing bonuses can be as high as $450,000, according to several attorneys at the firms that recruit and hire them. Judges have powerful alumni networks that include reunions. A justice’s approval of a federal judgeship or law professorship is decisive. Many clerks join appellate practices, where, after a mandatory short break from court practice, they spend the rest of their careers studying and influencing the minds of judges.

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But Marshall’s search was broader. Interview questions and affidavits that clerks were asked to sign were redacted, and it was a crime to lie to federal investigators. Investigators collected the clerks’ court-issued electronic devices and demanded their personal devices. The group feared that a person would be subject to so-called “leakage” — leaked details, such as misrepresentations about judges or cases, that had nothing to do with the leak but could prove damaging.

Demands to hand over personal cell phones have prompted some to seek legal counsel. It is unclear to what extent the clerks agreed to share physical devices. But employees “voluntarily provided call and text records and billing statements,” the report said, suggesting at least some may have been compromised: Investigators could see records and numbers, but not access other private material.

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