On the day before he died, Justice Antonin Scalia – deplaning from Southwest flight no. 1209 at Houston Hobby, gun in tow and in poorer health than was widely known – was met by deputy U.S. marshals for assistance in transferring to a chartered plane headed for the posh Cibolo Creek Ranch in a remote part of West Texas. As a member of the Supreme Court, Scalia was within his rights to request that the agents remain with him during his trip but instead opted for protection only during his layover.
His ultimate interaction with the agency came as deputies in field offices across Texas and as far away as Washington scrambled to notify one another and other authorities of his passing. That process included informing the Supreme Court Police Department, which cedes the responsibility for protecting the justices outside of the District to the U.S. Marshals Service and was not told of Scalia’s death until two hours after his body was found motionless in his suite at 11:00 a.m. on Feb. 13, 2016. USMS deputies did not arrive at the ranch until at 2:38 that afternoon.
Documents procured from a nearly two-year-old Fix the Court FOIA request to USMS present new information on how federal agents responded to a momentous event in an isolated part of the country and for the first time reveal the formal policies, and underscore the shortcomings therein, for when justices are granted protection outside of the nation’s capital.