Anthrax scare forces justices into temporary courtroom

Monday, October 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Supreme Court justices, looking a little glum, filed into a borrowed courtroom Monday as concern about anthrax forced the court to do business outside its marble headquarters for the first time in 66 years.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist noted the unusual move and thanked staff ``whose hard work made it possible to hear arguments.''

Outside the courtroom, a long line of would-be spectators hoped for one of scarce spaces, but had to compete with lawyers and law clerks also trying to get a glimpse of history. As at the court's regular building, spectators had to pass through two sets of metal detectors, one at the building entrance and one just outside the courtroom.

The justices were hearing arguments in two cases Monday in a courtroom a mile from the court's main building. The classical Greek structure was closed Friday after tests showed anthrax on an air filter at a court mail-sorting facility in suburban Maryland. It was the first time since the building was completed that the justices had to meet elsewhere.

The Supreme Court was accustomed to making do with begged or borrowed quarters for much of its history before it got its own building in 1935. It has never sat elsewhere since then, court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said.

Justices looked a little glum as they filed into the wood-paneled courtroom in full view as sketch artists documented the unusual scene. In their home quarters, heavy red velvet drapery screens the justices until the moment they take their seats.

About 400 people, including most court employees, were tested for anthrax exposure Friday and Saturday, Arberg said. Those tested received a six-day supply of the antibiotic doxycycline. The justices, who met for a private discussion at the court Friday morning, were among the first to be tested and also were prescribed the drug.

Tests on the main building began Friday night and continued Saturday. There were no results as of Sunday, Arberg said. Depending on the test results, the building would be decontaminated and people who were exposed would begin a 60-day regimen of antibiotics.

The justices' robes, each custom made, were shipped to the E. Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse Friday afternoon. The justices will have temporary office space there and at a federal court office building for as long as the Supreme Court building is closed.

The court is scheduled to hear arguments through Wednesday, and court employees were making preparations over the weekend to hold all those sessions in an ornate ceremonial courtroom at the federal courthouse.

The borrowed courtroom is much smaller than the court's own facility, and there was a scramble to accommodate all the lawyers, aides and reporters who planned to attend.