WASHINGTON -- Members of the Supreme Court Wednesday asked Congress for the right to be driven to work in government cars as an added protection against a growing number of death threats.
During a presentation of the court's $17.3 million budget request for fiscal 1986, Justice Byron White said the eight associate justices need legal authority for vehicle privileges that only Chief Justice Warren Burger has now.
'This would not require any addition to the budget for the next fiscal year,' White said. 'We could make do with vehicles we now have and officers we have on board.'
Federal law prohibits the use of government cars for personal use unless specifically allowed by Congress.
Last week, Justice Harry Blackmun confirmed that a gunshot blast shattered the window to his apartment, the same day he and Justice Lewis Powell received identical letters threatening to 'shoot you dead.'
The FBI has not commented on whether the shooting incident was related to that letter or to other life-threatening letters Blackmun has received by opponents of the 1973 Supreme Court decision he authored legalizing abortion. However, law enforcement sources have said federal agents believe the gunshot was fired at random or at a distant target and was not aimed at Blackmun.
In 1982, White was struck on the cheek as he addressed the Utah Bar Association in Salt Lake City.
'In light of recent events, all of us will be perhaps more careful of where we go and what we do,' White said. 'Of course, we must go back and forth to the office and we must go downtown from time to time.'
White noted that court security has increased over the past year and additional guards are being hired with extra money appropriated by Congress a year ago.
Rep. Neal Smith, D-Iowa, chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee, endorsed White's suggestion for statutory language allowing the justices to be driven to work. He said a request for driving rights for associate justices was made a quarter century ago by Justice Thomas Clark.
'There's ample reason why a justice shouldn't be driving an automobile and should be free to work on his way to the office,' Smith said.
The court owns six sedans and one limousine for the use of Burger. White said it would not be necessary to buy new cars because the justices go to work at different hours.