Report reveals large chunk of marble fell in Supreme Court's interior courtyard last year

October 14, 2023

It was recently revealed that potential serious injuries, or even death, were narrowly avoided last year during a previously unreported catastrophic failure at the U.S. Supreme Court building.

A large chunk of marble, measuring more than two feet in length, fell off the structure and crashed to the ground below in one of the interior courtyards, though nobody was hit by the debris, according to USA Today.

Per court employees knowledgeable of the incident, liberal Justice Elena Kagan and her law clerks had been in that same courtyard just a short while earlier.

Heavy chunk of marble fell in interior courtyard

The Associated Press was the first to report on the incident that allegedly occurred in the Spring of 2022, according to several unnamed court employees, but has not yet been publicly acknowledged by the Supreme Court.

The chunk of Georgia marble that clads the building's four interior courtyards was said to have measured more than two feet in length, and while it is unknown exactly how much that chunk of marble weighed, it has been estimated that a single cubic foot of the material weighs around 170 pounds.

The courtyards, which feature Corinthian-style columns similar to the front facade along with fountains and tables with chairs, are often used by justices and their aides or court employees to eat lunch or even work outside when the weather is nice.

According to the AP, the courtyards are currently closed as part of a $35 million renovation project that was planned prior to last year's incident and that, in addition to restoring the marble cladding, also includes renovating the fountains and updating the remaining original electric wiring and plumbing from when the building was first constructed in 1935.

Marble chunk from front facade fell in 2005

This actually isn't the first time that a chunk of marble big enough to possibly injure or kill somebody has fallen off the Supreme Court building, as NBC News reported in 2005 on a "basketball-sized piece" of marble that fell from the top of the front facade and crashed onto the steps below in the vicinity of visitors waiting to enter the building.

Some of those visitors had just passed beneath the pediment from which the piece of marble dentil molding had come loose right before it fell to the steps and shattered into numerous smaller pieces, which some students on a tour attempted to pocket as souvenirs.

Parts of the building were undergoing a five-year $122 million renovation at that time, though it was not believed that the work impacted or involved the marble exterior facade, which had just been inspected two years earlier and showed no indications of any problems.

Several years later, however, CNN reported in 2012 that a 21-month project with unspecified costs was launched to "repair and preserve the front exterior" of the Supreme Court building that had been covered with protective netting to guard against another incident like what occurred in 2005.

Chief Justice Roberts once joked about the court "literally losing our marbles"

Though the Supreme Court has not yet commented on last year's reported incident of marble falling in the courtyard, the AP noted that Chief Justice John Roberts had joked about the 2005 incident of marble falling from the front facade, as well as the lifetime tenure jurists enjoy, while speaking with law students at Drake University in 2008.

Referencing the ongoing renovations to the building at that time, Roberts said, "Now, there were a lot of reasons that we had to renovate the building, including the fact that we were literally losing our marbles," and added, "The occasional chunk of marble would dislodge and fall from above, threatening to shorten life tenure."

Hopefully, the current renovation and restoration efforts in the Supreme Court's interior courtyards will prove successful in preventing any future instances of marble chunks falling to the ground below, potentially endangering anybody unlucky enough to be standing in or near the crash zone.

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