WASHINGTON (AP) — When Gail Curley took her job as Marshal of the U.S. Supreme Court less than a year ago, she would have expected to work mostly behind the scenes: overseeing the court’s police forces and the operation of the Marble Column building where the judges work.
Her most public role was to be in the courtroom, where the marshal banged a gavel and announced the entry of the court’s nine judges. she short script includes “Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!” – meaning “hear” – and concludes, “God save the United States and this honorable court.”
earlier this month, however Curley was handed a bomb from an order Overseeing an unprecedented breach of Supreme Court secrecy, the leak of a draft advisory opinion and apparent voting a major abortion case. Leaks to Politico suggest the court appears poised to rule Roe v. Wade to repeal the 1973 decision that women had a constitutional right to abortion. That worked protests and 24/7 security at judges’ homes,demonstrations in court and Concerns about violence following court’s final decision.
People who know Curley described the former army colonel and military lawyer as having the right temperament for a highly charged leak investigation: smart, private, apolitical and unlikely to be intimidated.
“I am confident that if the truth can be found here, she will find it and present it with an open mind,” said retired Army Brig. Gen. Patrick Huston, her direct superior at the Pentagon in her last military job before the Supreme Court. Huston said he was incredibly impressed with Curley and that she had a tremendous leadership reputation, but even as her boss for two years, he didn’t know if she had a spouse or children.
Through a court spokeswoman, Curley declined an interview request. She is the 11th Marshal of the Court and the second woman to hold the post. She is also somewhat constrained in her investigations by her position, created shortly after the Civil War in 1867. Experts say leaking the draft report was unlikely to have been a crime, and Curley’s investigative tools are limited. She could theoretically hire an outside law firm to help, and the FBI has been called in on other court filing cases. But it’s not clear if they or others have the authority to issue subpoenas to obtain material from journalists or fewer than 100 people in court – including judges – with access to a draft opinion.
The investigation appears to have no real precedent. In 1973, the outcome of the Roe case leaked several hours before it was announced. The then Chief Justice was furious and threatened polygraph tests, but the leaker was quick to come forward and stated it was an accident.
Although the circumstances are different, leading an investigation is nothing new to Curley. In her military career, she routinely oversaw a dozen or more criminal and administrative investigations and oversaw large numbers of attorneys and paralegals, Huston said. She was an authority on international law and statutes related to armed conflict, but the investigations she oversaw throughout her career could range widely from criminal matters involving military personnel to treaty issues. Huston described her as “not the kind of person who would ever be intimidated by anything.”
Curley began her military career at West Point, where nearly 10% of her 1991 graduating class were women. Lisa Freidel, a member of the same 25-person company as Curley, remembered her as friendly and hardworking, but also as a “pretty serious person.”
“She didn’t like the foolishness of some guys, some guys in our company. They were young men. They do stupid stuff. She didn’t like that,” recalled Freidel, adding that Curley “wanted to be surrounded by intellectuals, by people who were smart to challenge her.”
Curley was nicknamed “Swirlin’ Curl” in the West Point yearbook, which listed her hometown as Baltimore. She’s also something of an introvert, Freidel said, adding that she’s never met Curley’s parents, just an aunt and uncle, and doesn’t recall talking about siblings.
At school, Curley was interested in American politics and government, an interest that coincided with a requirement of West Point: knowledge of current affairs. The New York Times was delivered every morning, and cadets should be able to talk about four articles in the paper every day, Freidel recalled.
“You had to make sure your shoes were polished, your belt buckles were all polished and everything in front of the formation and try to memorize the paper,” she said.
Despite this, Curley found time for extracurricular activities. A home affairs association of which she was a member took a trip to Washington during her senior year that included a meeting with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. “See you in the White House one day!” reads her yearbook entry.
After graduating, she joined the Army Signals Corps, which is responsible for establishing communications systems in the field.
“I’ve been very fortunate in my career,” Curley said of the time, according to a 2017 news article. “As a young Army signals officer, I was able to lead a large platoon in Europe during my first tour of duty…this was at a time when women were not allowed to serve as platoon leaders in certain jobs.”
She eventually earned a law degree from the University of Illinois College of Law and became an Army Attorney. Her career took her through the United States, but also to Afghanistan for a year. She later spent three years in Germany as senior legal adviser to the commander of US Army Europe Lt. Gen. Ben Hodgeswho is now retired, and then Lt. Gen. Christopher Cavoli. Cavoli, now a four star generalwas Appointed Supreme Allied Commander for NATO earlier this month.
In Germany, Curley was the senior army lawyer, overseeing some 300 judicial officers across Europe. She also provided “legal review and advice on the millions of things we did,” Hodges said in an interview.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone with more integrity,” Hodges said, adding that Curley also has a sense of humor and “a real dose of humility.”
The three-star general said because he liked and respected her so much, he would sometimes tease her. She has no problem asserting herself, he said.
“She had the confidence of knowing that her IQ was about 40 points higher than mine,” he said. “And that’s how she could afford to be confident.”
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