Today's Reading


Chief Justice Clarissa Baxter meticulously cleared the surface of her desk. The drafts of memos compiled by her clerks and relevant research documents were refiled and locked in the steel-lined drawers of her expansive oak desk. What was left, her random musings jotted down on legal pads, were quickly reviewed and a few pages kept while she fed most of them to the shredder in the back corner.

Chief Justice Baxter took no chances that anyone other than her four clerks had access to arguments she formulated during her process of deliberation. She knew the eight associate justices didn't consider her a team player, a throwback to the Burger court. Not only was she reticent in their weekly Friday conferences, she instructed her clerks to be tight-lipped until she was ready to voice a position.

Well, she wasn't a team player. She wasn't part of the club—the Harvard or Yale law school grads who dominated the bench. She felt an affinity with the other two women justices, but they also were products of the northeastern elite schools. Clarissa Baxter had attended law school at the University of Wyoming, her native state. She had graduated at the top of her class, and her judicial career had kept her close to home as she rose from district judge to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. When the former chief justice retired, the president had made her his surprise nominee, claiming it was time for a woman to hold the top judicial position in the nation. Forty-eight-year-old Clarissa Baxter had issued no polarizing rulings and gave heavy weight to legal precedent. She had won senate confirmation by a comfortable margin. That had been six months ago and toward the end of the court's last term. Now this term would be hers and she was eager to make her mark.

She stood and grabbed her raincoat from the coat rack by the door. The weather forecast called for a light drizzle to last into the night. She wanted to get home, start a fire, and finish the bottle of pinot noir she'd uncorked the night before. Just her and Max. Max the German shepherd. Her sole companion. Her husband, Jackson, lay in the family plot back in Laramie. Twenty years of marriage, and then pancreatic cancer stole the love of her life six weeks before the president called. It wasn't fair. But if life wasn't fair, she would work to see that the law was. She knew that goal wasn't easy, not when the possibility of bad consequences existed no matter how a ruling came down. That was the dilemma she found herself in now. A dilemma she'd take home with her despite the warm fire, fine wine, and comforting presence of her husband's beloved Max.

She went to her desk phone and lifted the receiver. Before she could dial, her secretary, Nicole Cramerton, spoke through the intercom. "Marshal Ventana is here to see you."

"Send him in."

A middle-aged white man with close-cropped gray hair and tired brown eyes entered.

"What is it, Daniel?" The chief justice dropped the receiver back on the cradle.

"Sorry to interrupt." Supreme Court Marshal Daniel Ventana held out a sealed manila envelope. "Got a minute?"

Chief Justice Baxter draped her raincoat over the back of her chair and then walked to meet the man rather than invite him in. "What is it?"

"The scenarios you asked me to play out—if protests turn violent like the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol. I got input from the U.S. Marshals and the FBI, as well as construction estimates. I thought you might want to review my recommendations over the weekend."


"Mostly reinforcing windows and doors. And creating more defensive positions for my team in case there's an actual breach." 

The chief justice took the proffered document. She knew it was a priority for Ventana. His title of Supreme Court marshal could be confusing because he wasn't a U.S. Marshal but rather the head of the Supreme Court police and chief administrator. Court security was his responsibility.

"Thank you," she said. "I'm sure you've thought of everything." 

"There's always room for better ideas. But if you've got a big weekend planned, don't feel like you've got to read it right away. I just wanted to give you the option." 

"It will be a quiet weekend, Daniel." 

"Have you called for your car?"

"I was just about to." She returned to her desk and reached for the phone.

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