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6 Months After His Death, Scalia's Chambers Are Still Humming

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on August 18, 2016 12:57 PM

Last Saturday marked the sixth month anniversary of Justice Antonin Scalia's death. That's six months since he died in his sleep on a Texas hunting retreat, six months since his body was laid out in the Supreme Court's Great Hall, six months since his law clerks were transferred to other chambers.

But even though Justice Scalia is gone, his chambers are still open for business.

No Reason to Hurry

A recent article on Justice Scalia's legacy by the National Law Journal's Tony Mauro begins with this interesting tidbit: despite the months and months that have passed since Justice Scalia's death, his chambers are open, with his staff members "still slowly boxing up decades of Scalia's documents and memorabilia." Very slowly, apparently.

"There is, after all, no reason to hurry," Mauro writes. With no replacement justice expected to join the Court anytime soon, it's not as though anyone is scrambling for extra office space.

Still, usually things wind down a bit more quickly. Even if there is not a replacement justice, the other members of the Court will sometimes take over a departed colleagues' chambers. The option to grab a new office is given to each justice, in order of seniority. It appears that no member of the Court was interested.

Work Still Left to Be Done

When Justice Scalia died, some of his staff left right away. Scalia, like all the justices, had four law clerks who did typical law clerk things: reviewing cert petitions, drafting opinions, conducting research. Those clerks are often rising legal stars, the lawyers who will go on to argue before the Court or even sit on the Supreme Court bench themselves. As is tradition, when a justice dies, his or her clerks are absorbed by the rest of the Court; Scalia's went to Justices Thomas and Alito.

But Supreme Court justices have non-clerk staff as well. These include "one or two secretaries and a messenger," according to SCOTUSblog's Stephen Wermiel. Those workers are allowed to stay on staff and continue working in the justice's chambers, for a "grace period," according to Wermiel. They may also apply for other positions in the Court.

It appears that grace period hasn't ended yet. Justice Scalia's remaining staff might not be filing any more decisions or circulating draft opinions, but they still have his papers to deal with. Those papers, which could include anything from the justice's correspondence to his draft decisions, don't have yet a final resting place. If they're made public, they could reveal everything from the secret wrangling over Bush v. Gore to how the justice stumbled upon "argle-bargle."

And there's still There's no word of what's happened to "Leroy," the elk head that adorned Justice Scalia's chamber walls.

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