Too bad Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wasn't in South Philadelphia on Monday, where he could have followed local custom and parked in the middle of Broad Street. Or maybe even on the sidewalk, at no cost to the American taxpayer.
Instead, he was just outside the Union League, where his driver's decision to park in a loading zone seems likely to cost the nation's highest court $62.
The justice's two cars - at least one featuring a U.S. Supreme Court Police parking placard - had been lingering 28 minutes over the 20-minute limit when a PPA officer slapped each with a $31 citation. "The vehicle was ticketed and the ticket is valid," pronounced Vince Fenerty, executive director of the Republican-controlled Philadelphia Parking Authority. Fenerty, a pillar of the city's GOP establishment, offered no partisan clemency Tuesday for Scalia, the court's conservative standard-bearer.
Kathleen L. Arberg, the Supreme Court's public information officer, would say only that "the ticket was issued to a U.S. Supreme Court vehicle driven by a Supreme Court Police officer." She did not respond to a question about whether Scalia is a fan of Parking Wars, the reality TV show that had its genesis in the obscenity-laden exchanges between Parking Authority employees and the people they ticket.
Philadelphia has been rough on Supreme Court justices before. In 2003, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor narrowly escaped injury when a frame fell at the National Constitution Center.
Scalia was visiting the Union League to talk about his latest book, Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts.
While there, he spoke twice - to the Justinian Society, a group of jurists whose heritage is Italian, and the Federalist Society, a group of conservative and libertarian lawyers.
Judd Serotta, a Blank Rome partner, said he helped organize Scalia's visit at the request of the Washington chapter of the Federalist Society.
"He spoke about . . . the original understanding of the Constitution and how that's important in judicial decision-making," Serotta said of Scalia's talk. About 250 people attended.
Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner, a veteran of the bench and a Democrat, suggested that the parking-ticket story was deliciously Philadelphian. He also opined that a Supreme Court justice might pay for parking like the rest of us.
"I'm sure he makes a decent salary, gets a lot of speaker fees for a lot of the things he does, and it's hard to imagine that they couldn't get the thing off the street and into a parking garage," Lerner said.
There was no indication whether Scalia would contest the tickets - potentially appealable up to himself, as the Philebrity blog wryly noted.
The case might just be "the biggest test of Justice Scalia's belief of whether everyone is equal before the law," observed Lerner. The story took wing after Dean Picciotti, a lawyer who was at the Union League on Monday, snapped a picture of the ticket and posted it to his Facebook page. Scott Bomboy picked up the story on the blog of the Constitution Center. Soon, it hit the websites of The Inquirer, the Washington Post, and Politico.
Fenerty said the placard reading "Supreme Court of the United States Police Official Business" was not relevant.
"We don't recognize placards as permission to park illegally," he said. "Anybody can make a placard."