WASHINGTON — When Gail Curley began her job as a U.S. Supreme Court marshal less than a year ago, she might have expected to work mostly behind the scenes: overseeing the court’s police force and the marble-pillared the operation of the building where the judges work.
His most public role should have been in the courtroom, where the marshal beat a gavel and announced the entry of the court’s nine judges. His abbreviated script read “OZ! OZ! OZ!” – meaning “listen” – and concludes, “God save the United States of America and this Honorable Court.”
Earlier this month, however, Curley was handed the bombshell of an assignment, overseeing an unprecedented breach of Supreme Court secrecy, the leak of a draft opinion, and clear votes in a major abortion case. Leaks for Politico reveal that the court was in Roe v. Wade is set to overturn a 1973 ruling that gave women the constitutional right to abortion. This has given rise to concerns about protests and round-the-clock security at judges’ homes, court demonstrations and violence following the court’s final decision.
People who knew Curly, 53, described the former Army colonel and military lawyer as having the right flair for a highly charged leak investigation: smart, private, political and unlikely to be intimidated.
“I am sure that if the truth can be ascertained here, it will find it out and present it in an impartial manner,” said the retired Army brigadier. His direct supervisor at the Pentagon, General Patrick Huston, took his last military job before the Supreme Court. Huston said he was incredibly influenced by Curley and had a tremendous reputation as a leader, but even as his boss of two years, he didn’t know he had a spouse or children.
Through a court spokeswoman, Curley declined an interview request. She is the 11th court marshal and the second woman to hold the position. He is also somewhat constrained in his investigation by his position created just after the Civil War in 1867. Experts say leaking the draft opinion was not a crime, and Curley’s investigative tools are limited. She could theoretically hire an outside law firm to assist, and the FBI has been called in other judicial records matters. But it is not clear whether he or others have the power to issue summons to obtain material from journalists or less than 100 people in court – including judges – with access to a draft opinion.
There doesn’t appear to be any real examples of investigation. In 1973 the outcome of the Roe case was leaked several hours before its announcement. The Chief Justice was furious at the time and threatened a lie detector test, but the leaker quickly came forward and told that it was an accident.
Even if the circumstances are different, overseeing the investigation is nothing new for Curley. In his military career he regularly conducted a dozen or more criminal and administrative investigations and supervised a large number of lawyers and paralegals, Huston said. She was an authority on international law and the laws surrounding armed conflict, but the investigations she oversaw throughout her career could range widely from criminal matters involving service members to contractual issues. Huston described him as “not the kind of person who would ever be intimidated by anything.”
Curley began her military career at West Point, where only 10% of her 1991 graduating class were women. Lisa Friedel, a member of the same 25-member company as Curley, remembered him as kind and studious, but also a “very serious person”.
“He didn’t like the tomfoolery of some of the boys in our company, some of the boys. They were young men. They do stupid things. He didn’t like it,” Friedel recalled, adding Curly “wanted to be surrounded by intellectuals , those who were clever enough to challenge him.”
Curly was dubbed the “Swirlin Curl” in the West Point yearbook, which listed her hometown as Baltimore. She was an introvert, Friedel said, she never met Curly’s parents, just an aunt and uncle, and didn’t remember talking about siblings.
In school, Curley became interested in American politics and government, an interest that coincided with a West Point requirement: being knowledgeable about current affairs. The New York Times was distributed every morning and the cadets should have been able to talk about the four articles in the paper each day, Friedel recalled.
“You had to make sure your shoes were shining, your belt buckles were all shining and try to memorize everything and paper before forming,” she said.
Nevertheless, Curley found time for extra-curricular activities. She was a member of a domestic affairs club that traveled to Washington in her senior year, which included a meeting with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. “See you at the White House someday!” Her annuity entry reads.
After graduating, she joined the Army’s Signal Corps, which is responsible for establishing communication systems in the area.
According to a 2017 news article, Curley said of the time, “I’ve been very fortunate in my career.” “As a young Army signals officer I was able to lead a large platoon in Europe during my first assignment …
She eventually went on to earn a law degree from the Illinois College of Law and become an Army lawyer. His career took him for a year in the United States but also in Afghanistan. Later, he spent three years in Germany as chief legal advisor to the commander of US Army Europe, first Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, who is now retired, and then Lieutenant General Christopher Cavoli. Cavoli, now a four-star general, was named as Supreme Allied Commander for NATO earlier this month.
In Germany, Curley was a senior military lawyer who oversaw some 300 legal officers across Europe. “We also provide legal review and advice on the millions of things we were doing,” Hodges said in an interview.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone more honestly,” Hodges said, adding that Curley also had a sense of humor and a “real dose of humility.”
The three-star general said that because he liked and respected her so much, he would sometimes tease her. She said she had no problem keeping to herself.
“She had the confidence to know that her IQ was about 40 points higher than mine,” he said. “And so she could afford to be overconfident.”
Associated Press reporter Ben Fox in Washington and Associated Press researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.