Standing at the head of the casket of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Jacob Habecker thought of little other than his assignment, to serve and protect.
That, and the silence: As a member of the federal police, he’d grown accustomed to the buzz of dispatchers and fellow officers on his radio. Standing under the portico at the top of the Supreme Court steps in a frozen salute, Jacob was struck by the quiet and the long, snaking line of mourners.
Over the course of two days last month, Jacob was among a select group of federal officers chosen to serve in the honor guard while Ginsburg lay in repose at the Supreme Court where she served from 1993 until her death on Sept. 18 at age 87.
“It’s a memory I’m going to cherish for the rest of my life. I’m very proud of it,” said Jacob, a Palmyra native and alumnus of the criminal justice program at Finger Lakes Community College.
Jacob and fellow honor guard members, clad in their navy blue uniforms and matching face coverings, alternated in 15-minute shifts at the head of the flag-covered casket while mourners paid respects on Sept. 23 and 24.
Jacob could tell when a dignitary had arrived because they were escorted to the front of the line. He was working when Bernie Sanders and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez came through.
Presidents were allowed a closer view. “I was there when Bill Clinton came, but in other room,” he said, later adding, “The honor guard appealed to me because it allowed me to witness history first-hand.”
Jacob’s background in scouting and its ceremonial rites added to his interest. He earned the rank of Eagle Scout and, with his father, Shawn, was a staff mainstay at the Seneca-Waterways Council camp Babcock- Hovey in Ovid, Seneca County. There, known to scores of scouts and their families as “Little Bear,” he helped lead an elaborate flag ceremony that closed each summer session.
After graduating from Palmyra-Macedon High School, Jacob wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He considered a certificate trade program but decided to take a chance on FLCC. “I loved my time at FLCC, I really did,” he said. “It’s a great investment, even if you don’t know if you’re going to go to college. I was in that boat starting on my first day.”
Jacob quickly became engrossed in his studies under instructors like Prof. James Valenti and, he found fast family-like friendships as a member of the Logging Sports Team. Under Coach Ryan Staychock, he and teammates took top honors at the 69th Northeast Collegiate Woodsmen Conclave at Dartmouth College in April 2015.
Jacob’s former logging sports teammate, Brandon Graves ’15, said, “I’m not at all surprised that he was picked for the honor guard. It’s amazing – a huge honor.”
Brandon now serves as assistant coach of the team and has stayed in contact with Jacob. “Jake is a stand-up person. He has wanted to work in law enforcement ever since I first talked to him,” he said.
Jacob earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice sociology at the State University of New York at Potsdam in 2018. His sights set on federal police work, he applied for the Supreme Court position and was hired months after graduation. After an extensive physical evaluation, interview process and background check, he began a 12-week program at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia in January 2019.
His post at the Supreme Court began in May of last year.
“As a police agency we actually don’t make a ton of arrests,” he said. “We are mainly there to protect the building, the justices, the employees and any visitors coming in.”
In his early months on the job, it was not uncommon for Jacob to see Justice Ginsburg, although the interactions were limited. A few times, he served in court while she presided.
“She was an incredible woman and I was lucky enough to see her do her work, to speak as she did,” said Jacob. “I’m honored to have been able to serve her this one final time.”