An elevated status for Supreme Court

December 13, 2013

In these waning days of the Great Sequester, it’s comforting that folks in Washington can still live in the style to which they have become accustomed.

Take, for example, the Supreme Court, where they look to be getting a new — and quite snappy — private elevator to take the justices and staffers and guests up from the underground garage to the chambers and offices. Seems one of the elevators — No. 6, to be precise — was damaged in a small fire decades ago and was sorely in need of an update.

The Architect of the Capitol, which is part of the legislative branch, solicited bids for the job last Friday, saying it would spend between $250,000 and $500,000 for new cables and hoist ropes and the like, as well as repairs to the operating panels.

Seems a bit steep. Our condo did something just like this for about $175,000 per elevator. But the court elevator’s specs seem most luxurious.

The solicitation from the architect’s office says it wants to “replace existing plastic laminate wall panels” (“Plastic laminate”? At the Supreme Court?) with new “solid wood wall panels and trim to match Elevator # 7.”

Bidders must also replace those door panels with a “new polished bronze door,” and get rid of those yucky ceiling panels to make way for a “new wood ceiling.” Naturally, we’ll need “new bronze handrails, end caps and brackets.” Decorum is important, after all. So is decor.

And the solicitation requires replacement of the “wooden emergency phone door” and installation of a new “hands free emergency phone” linked to the phone system.

(So no need for the Clapper.)

Meanwhile, the big budget deal announced this week, if approved (it passed the House on Thursday, and the Senate votes next week), could be good news for the high court. Congressional appropriators might refrain from asking why each justice is still allotted four law clerks though the number of full decisions by the court has plummeted dramatically in the past few decades.

Real estate notes

Proximity is power, it is said. The closer to the Oval Office, the more powerful you are. And when a beleaguered second-term president brings in some heavyweights to help his administration, location counts.

That’s a bit less true when the “new” aides are veterans of President Obama’s team such as former Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta , who ran the Obama 2008 transition, and former Obama legislative affairs chief Phil Schiliro, who’s returning from Santa Fe to help out for a few months on health-care matters.

Schiliro will be getting a fine office — one of the ones he used to have in this administration, and one reportedly once inhabited by Donald Rumsfeld in the Richard Nixon days — on the second floor of the West Wing.

Podesta, a “senior counselor” with a very broad portfolio covering the environment, overall policy and general strategerizing, is said to be staying for a year. He could benefit from an office closer to the action.

Hey! Whaddaya know? Got one right here. He can take senior counselor Pete Rouse’s soon-to-be-vacant office, right across from Podesta’s old corner office when he was Bill Clinton’s chief of staff during the last couple of years of that administration. It’s just steps down the hall from the Oval.

Podesta’s arrival has led to chatter about Chief of Staff Denis McDonough’s star maybe dimming in the Obama firmament. White House folks are insisting that’s not so. Bringing in Center for American Progress founder Podesta, more or less affectionately nicknamed “Skippy” on certain days during the Clinton years, was even said to be a McDonough initiative under the reorganization plans the White House has been working on.

His arrival also means the Obama presidential library will be inundated — just as the Clinton library in Little Rock has been — with Freedom of Information Act requests, such as this one: for “e-mails to and from John Podesta, containing the words either, X-Files or Area 51.”

Podesta was a renowned fan of the “X-Files” television show. Asked in 2007 by our colleague Karen Tumulty about the FOIA jam at the library, Podesta, through a spokesman, said: “The truth is out there.” That’s the show’s tag­ line.

Unclear why Podesta is committed to stay for only one of Obama’s remaining three years. Maybe he knows how hard the president will make it for him to leave? Maybe needs time to rest up for Hillary ’16?

Quote of the week

A Justice Department lawyer argued Monday that a new body-search policy for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay did not restrict inmates’ access to lawyers.

Edward Himmelfarb urged a federal appeals panel to overturn a ruling in July by Senior U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, who found otherwise.

Himmelfarb argued that the searches — which prisoners apparently would have to undergo before meeting with their attorneys — involved pat-downs of fully clothed detainees, the Legal Times Blog reported.

Prisoners apparently declined to meet with their lawyers because they found the groin-area searches religiously and culturally offensive.

But Himmelfarb compared the searches to Transportation Security Administration frisks of airline passengers who objected to going through X-ray machines.

Then this: “It’s not as bad as it sounds.”

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.
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