The Supreme Court avoided disaster when a hunk of marble fell in a courtyard used by justices

Oct 12, 2023, 9:13 PM

FILE - The Supreme Court is seen at sundown in Washington, on Nov. 6, 2020. The Supreme Court avoid...

FILE - The Supreme Court is seen at sundown in Washington, on Nov. 6, 2020. The Supreme Court avoided a catastrophic accident in 2022 when a massive piece of marble at least two feet in length crashed to the ground in an interior courtyard used by the justices and their aides. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court avoided a catastrophic accident last year when an enormous piece of marble at least two feet in length crashed to the ground in an interior courtyard used by the justices and their aides, according to several Supreme Court employees.

The incident, which the court still fails to acknowledge publicly, took place in the tense spring of 2022, as the court already was dealing with death threats and other security concerns and the justices were putting the final touches on their stunning decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

Justice Elena Kagan and her law clerks had been in the courtyard earlier in the day, the employees said.

No one was injured when the marble fell, the employees said. The piece was easily big enough to have seriously injured someone, they said. It was much larger than the basketball-sized chunk that fell near the court’s front entrance in 2005.

The weight of the marble that fell is unknown, but the Georgia marble used in the court’s four interior courtyards weighs about 170 pounds per cubic foot, according to Polycor, which owns the quarry that provided the marble.

The employees spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because court policy forbids all but a small number of employees from speaking to reporters on the record.

Supreme Court spokeswoman Patricia McCabe would not provide any details about the incident or even confirm that it had taken place. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the building was closed at the time to the public and members of the news media who regularly cover the court.

Each of the four courtyards has fountains and columns that resemble those on the outside of the building. There are tables and chairs where employees can have lunch or work on nice days.

The courtyards are closed for restoration work that could cost nearly $35 million, budget requests to Congress show. The court had planned to redo the courtyards well before the marble fell. The work has been ongoing, mostly in the evening after court workers have left for the day.

In addition to restoring the marble, workers also are updating fountains, plumbing and electrical systems that date to the building’s opening in 1935.

In November 2005, marble molding fell from the facade over the entrance to the court, landing on the steps near visitors waiting to enter the building on a Monday morning. No one was hurt then, either.

Chief Justice John Roberts made a joking reference to the 2005 incident when he spoke at Drake University’s law school three years later.

The building was then undergoing a thorough renovation that would cost roughly $120 million and last until 2011.

“Now, there were a lot of reasons that we had to renovate the building, including the fact that we were literally losing our marbles,” Roberts said, as quoted in a university news release. “The occasional chunk of marble would dislodge and fall from above, threatening to shorten life tenure.”

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The Supreme Court avoided disaster when a hunk of marble fell in a courtyard used by justices