Walking away from the Smithsonian Folklife Festival to the closest (not that close!) available Metro Station (Judiciary Square on the Red Line) I happened upon one of me favorite Federal Office Buildings. That's saying something in a city blanketed by dozens and dozens of Federal agencies, many of which have not one, but a complex of office structures. And I love this place (which is actually made up of three buildings) not because it's the prettiest or the most commanding, or even the most interesting. I love this place because of what takes place inside. It is but one of 12 seats of the Federal Appeals Court of the United States. The place where plaintiffs seek justice just one step below the ultimate arbiter of the Unites States Constitution, the Supreme Court.
Established in 1893 during the Grover Cleveland administration with just two judges. Today it has eleven. Initially, it wasn't seen as significant compared to other appellate courts, but it has grown in significance over the years to a status of first among equals.
The march to exceptionality began in 1942 when President Roosevelt elevated justice Wiley Blount Rutledge of Kentucky from the DC Appeals Court to an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court. (Future SCOTUS justice John Paul Stevens of Illinois clerked for Rutledge during his tenure on the Supreme Court.) Next came Justice Warren E. Burger of Minnesota whom President Eisenhower tapped from the DC Appeals Court to be the nation's Chief Justice and who was one of the nation's most culturally influential Chief Justices. The term "The Warren Court" still resonates today when no one can point to a single thing Chief Justice William Rehnquist did save dress up like a character from the Pirates of Penzance to over President Bill Clinton's impeachment!
Then the precedent led to a glut of elevations from this court: President Reagan tapped Antonin Scalia of New Jersey, President George H. W. Bush selected Clarence Thomas of Georgia, and President Clinton elevated Ruth Bader Ginsberg or New York. Three of the most influential, colorful and/or controversial justices of my life. And then there is the current Chief Justice, John Roberts of Maryland who made his way to this position via President George W. Bush's nomination. And not to put to fine a point on today's civic's lesson, President Obama's latest nominee to the Supreme Court is also the current Chief Justice of the DC Appeals Court, Merrick Garland of Illinois.
Such profundity birthed from one such unassuming and innocuous Federal Building in a city where they're a dime a dozen. Yet, this building does have something that the others don't. On it's rear public entrance you will discover a mass of renovation activity with mounds of dirt and multi-story cranes and such...and also an entrance retrofitted with the MOST OBVIOUS and AMAZING "Blast Box" out there. In order to intimidate potential terror attacks and mitigate their impact, everyone who hopes to enter this building must first pass through a security check in an explosives proof glass box! It's destine to enter the history books as one of the most unusual responses to our trumped up War of Terrorism ever. It both screams out to would be terrorists: "Hey, Look At ME!" and "Damn, We're Screwed...."