2 female firsts at the Supreme Court announce retirements
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court said Tuesday that the first-ever women to hold two prominent positions at the court, handling the justices’ security and overseeing publication of the court’s decisions, are retiring.
Pamela Talkin’s most public role in nearly two decades as the court’s marshal has been opening court sessions by announcing the justices’ entrance into the courtroom and banging a gavel before court begins. She noted in 2005: “I’m the only person in the courtroom with a gavel.” But her responsibilities as marshal’s job were vast. She served as the court’s general manager and chief security officer, managing approximately 260 employees, including the Supreme Court’s police force.
Christine Luchok Fallon’s name wasn’t on any Supreme Court decision, but part of her job as the reporter of decisions was to oversee the writing of summaries of the justices’ opinions that begin each decision, turning lengthy legal explanations into a succinct few pages.
Fallon became the court’s 16th reporter of decisions in 2011. But she joined the court as deputy reporter of decisions in 1989, eight years after Justice Sandra Day O’Connor became the court’s first female justice and four years before Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the second. The court’s third and fourth female justices, Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Elena Kagan, joined the court in 2009 and 2010 respectively.
Talkin, for her part, started working at the court just about two months before 9/11.
“In terms of the safety and security of the Court, that event changed the way we all looked at security and access to public places,” Talkin said in a 2005 State Department publication.
In 2010, for example, the court announced it would no longer allow visitors to enter through the building’s front doors for security reasons. As marshal, Talkin was responsible for ensuring the justices’ security when they attended events, including the State of the Union, inaugurations and state funerals.
On argument days, visitors to the court would see Talkin donning the traditional outfit lawyers wore to argue: a formal morning suit with tails, pinstripe pants and a vest.
“Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting,” she said in calling the court to order more than 700 times, even when she was hoarse with a cold.
“God save the United States and this Honorable Court,” she would announce before banging a gavel.
Before becoming the 10th person to serve as marshal, Talkin served in government positions for more than 25 years. She was chief of staff to now-Justice Clarence Thomas during part of his time as head of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
When Thomas, now the court’s longest-serving justice, faced sexual harassment allegations by former EEOC employee Anita Hill during his 1991 confirmation hearing, accusations he denied, Talkin was one of the people who testified on his behalf.
“I have been in the workforce for over 30 years. During that time I have endured varying degrees of sexual harassment, sometimes serious, sometimes subtle ... It is in that context that I tell you that I have never met a man as sensitive. He has a feminist’s understanding of sexual politics. He is a man who loathes locker room talk,” Talkin said of Thomas.
In a statement, Chief Justice John Roberts praised Talkin, who will retire July 31, saying she had taken on “many crucial projects — including the renovation of our Court building and the modernization of our security practices.”
“We will miss hearing her cry the Court at the beginning of each of our arguments sessions,” Roberts wrote.
The last time the public heard Talkin announce the beginning of a court session was in May, when the court heard arguments by telephone for the first time, because of the coronavirus pandemic. Talkin called the court to order, but her words weren’t live. They were prerecorded for simplicity. On the last day of arguments, May 13, she announced that the court was adjourned “sine die,” a Latin phrase indicating it was uncertain, because of the pandemic, when the court would next meet in a public session.