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Remarks of The Chief Justice
E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse Annex Ground Breaking
Monday, April 8, 4:00 p.m.

Thank you Chief Judge Ginsburg. I am pleased to be here today as you celebrate breaking ground for the annex to your courthouse. This building has seen a lot of history in the making during the last 50 years. The Pentagon Papers case presided over by Judge Gesell in 1971, and the Watergate cases heard by Judge Sirica a couple of years later, are ones that took place within living memory of a good part of this audience.

Long before this courthouse was built, the judges of the federal courts of the District of Columbia saw more than their share of interesting characters and cases. On the night that President Lincoln was shot on April 14, 1865, David K. Cartter, Chief Justice of the newly created Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, administered oaths to witnesses who were then interrogated by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.

Chief Justice Cartter had been instrumental in swinging the 1860 Republican Convention Lincoln's way and in 1861 Lincoln appointed him Minister to Bolivia. In 1863, Lincoln named Cartter the first Chief Justice of what was then known as the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia. Cartter -- who spelled his name with two t's -- was very sensitive about people misspelling his name. If it was misspelled on papers filed with the court he is said to have tossed them to the floor. But Cartter was not the only District of Columbia federal judge involved in the prosecution of those charged with Lincoln's murder.

Although the defendants charged with conspiring to murder Lincoln were tried by a military commission, rather than in the civil courts, once convicted their writs of habeas corpus were filed in the federal court here. On July 5, President Andrew Johnson ordered those convicted of conspiracy for the assassination of Lincoln to be executed on July 7. One of these defendants was Mary Surratt, who was the first woman in the United States so sentenced. She had kept a boarding house where the conspirators met, and was unflatteringly described by the New York Times as "fair, fat, and forty."

In the early morning hours of July 7, Surratt's lawyers -- Frederick Aiken and John Clampitt -- went to the home of Justice Andrew Wylie of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia to apply for a writ of habeas corpus. They argued that in time of peace civilians could not be tried before a military commission -- an argument that would be sustained by the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Ex Parte Milligan the following year. Aiken and Clampitt woke Justice Wylie, who came to the door in his pajamas. Justice Wylie issued the writ at 3:00 a.m., making it returnable that morning at 10:00 a.m.

Just after 10:00, General Hancock, who had custody of Mrs. Surratt, and Attorney General James Speed arrived in the courtroom and announced that President Johnson had suspended the writ of habeas corpus "in such cases as this." Justice Wylie then explained that the writ of habeas corpus was "dear and sacred to every lover of liberty" and "indispensable to the protection of citizens," but noted that the Court's jurisdiction "yields to the suspension of the writ" by the President. Mary Surratt was executed that afternoon.

A few months before this courthouse opened in 1952, Judge David A. Pine heard the Steel Seizure case. Judge Pine was a former U.S. Attorney appointed to the District Court by President Roosevelt in 1940. Prior to the Steel Seizure case, Judge Pine's most notorious decision was as one of three judges who considered contempt of Congress charges against eight of the "Hollywood Ten." In that case, the eight were found guilty based on their refusal to tell the House Committee on Un-American Activities whether or not they were communists.

The Steel Seizure case garnered a great deal more attention. On April 8, 1952, President Truman announced that he had ordered the government to seize certain steel mills from their owners in order to avert a strike and keep the mills open. After the steel companies' request for a temporary restraining order was denied, on April 24, Judge Pine began hearings on the request for an injunction. Over two days of hearings, Assistant Attorney General Holmes Baldridge argued on behalf of the government that the President had all of the authority enjoyed by King George, III, unless the Constitution had expressly taken it away from him; you can imagine how the press made hay with that statement.

On April 29, Judge Pine issued a 15-page opinion squarely rejecting the government's absolute power argument and finding that the President lacked authority to seize the steel mills. The importance of Judge Pine's decision was reflected on the front page of The Washington Post on April 30th. A rare double banner headline declared: COURT VOIDS STEEL PLANT SEIZURE; WORKERS BEGINNING TO WALK OUT.

The day after Judge Pine issued his decision, the government sought and Judge Pine denied a stay. The government then sought a stay from the Court of Appeals, which sat en banc to hear argument that afternoon. The court voted five to four to grant a stay of Judge Pine's order, but only for 48 hours in order to allow the government to file its petition for certiorari. The Supreme Court granted certiorari, heard oral argument, and affirmed Judge Pine's ruling -- all before the middle of June.

I have described some of the fascinating cases and people associated with this building and the courts that sit here. But this building holds a special place for me for a more personal reason. Last October, we were forced to evacuate our building after traces of anthrax were found in our off-site mail facility. For the first time since our building opened in 1935, the Court heard arguments in another location -- here in the ceremonial courtroom on the sixth floor. The judges of the Circuit and District Courts and court staff did everything they could to assist in our rapid and unexpected relocation. Despite the cramped quarters that have required the construction of the annex you are breaking ground for today, the members of your courts managed to find enough space for us to operate for the better part of a week.

We are grateful for your hospitality and hope that if circumstances ever require us to return, it is after your new annex has been completed.

Before I close, I want to note that six members of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia have been promoted to our Court, including two who were named Chief Justice. Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined us in August, 1993, replacing Byron White. Clarence Thomas took his seat in October 1991, replacing Thurgood Marshall. Antonin Scalia took his seat in September 1986, when I became Chief Justice. Wiley Rutledge replaced James Byrnes in February 1943. The two Chief Justices were Fred Vinson, who replaced Harlan Stone in 1946, and Warren Burger, who became Chief Justice in June 1989, replacing Earl Warren. [Bazelon.]

Thank you.



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