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Marshal of the U.S. Supreme Court Addresses September Faculty Luncheon

 

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No one cried “Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!” when Pam Talkin walked into the law school’s room 220 to join the faculty for lunch—that’s her job, after all—but the 10th Marshal of the United States Supreme Court (and first woman to hold the position) nonetheless had the professors’ full attention as she described her daily duties at their monthly luncheon on Sept. 18. 

Invited to speak at CUA Law by Professor David Lipton, a friend from their high school days in Brooklyn, Talkin spent about an hour outlining her duties and sharing some amusing anecdotes about the experience of serving the justices of the nation’s highest court, something she likened to working for “nine different law firms within one building.”
 
The Marshal’s traditional role of “crying the court” by intoning such using phrases as “Oyez” and “God save the United States and this Honorable Court” is the visible and well known part of the job, but merely the tip of a portfolio of responsibilities that includes overseeing a staff of more than 350 people, including the Supreme Court’s own police force.
 
The Marshal must ensure courtroom security and decorum, including the enforcement of dress codes, supervise seating and the recording of proceedings, and maintain control of all property used and owned by the Court. The Marshal must be ready to respond immediately to any messages passed along by a justice, even in the middle of oral argument.
 
Because of the strict confidentiality of court operations and decisions prior to their public release, the Supreme Court operates in some ways as a distinct village, with its own staff of carpenters, electricians, cleaners and cooks. Everyone’s background is checked no matter what the job.
 
“”There is a real paranoia about having strangers in the building,” noted Talkin. Employees do not sign pledges of silence, but their discretion is expected and a traditional part of the culture, she said.
 
Talkin described her position as one of five senior appointments that collectively keep the trains running on time. Although she interacts with the justices as necessary, the whole point of a smooth operation is to allow them to concentrate on the law and opinion writing and leave administrative concerns to others.
 
“They leave us alone. Our job is to leave them alone,” she explained.
 
Previous Marshals of the Supreme Court often had military or law enforcement backgrounds. Talkin began her career as a Spanish teacher and guidance counselor in New York City high schools, later moving into senior administrative positions within the federal government, first with the Federal Labor Relations Authority and later, with the Office of Compliance, an independent regulatory agency.
 
Her reputation as a talented administrator helped seal her approval from the justices when she interviewed for the job of Marshal 13 years ago. But to the surprise of her luncheon audience, Talkin said she had no special connections at the court when she became aware of the job.
 
“I answered an ad in the Washington Post,” she recalled.