Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Attending Oral Arguments at Supreme Court

On Wednesday, March 30th, I attended an oral argument at the Supreme Court. My daughter had tried the week before and was 55th in line. Unfortunately, there are people that stand in line and supposedly get paid to hold places there. I imagine that the first ones in line above actually did not enter the courtroom, but once the numbers were handed out, the person paying them swapped places. It seems that wristbands or hand stamps could be used so that this would not take place. The guards know it happens and often it is lawyers that don't want to stand out in the cold that are paying. I heard one was paid $600. There is some reserved seating, but I guess it is limited. I see this happen every year when I attend the Masters Tournament. Teenage boys are paid to go in and place chairs at preferred holes and then return the badges and get paid. I can live with it for a golf tournament, but it does not seem like it is fair for people wanting to observe the highest court in the land. My daughter, a history teacher, only had one morning to try and she stood in the cold rain for hours. No additional people were allowed to go in for the second argument. She could have switched over to the three minute line for a short visit, but she really wanted to hear the argument. I was a little luckier in that I did get to go in for the second argument. I went in with the people below, a couple from St. Louis and a lady from Madison, Wisconsin. She had been there Monday, Tuesday (did opt for the three minute tour) and Wednesday, and like me, was seated at 11:15 until it concluded at 12:04. Both ladies almost missed out when they made a trip to the restroom and the guard came through with a second set of numbered markers. She did not believe us and held their numbers until they came back. When you stand in line with people for five hours, you kind of get to know them! The couple could not lock their locker that they stowed their belongings in and when they came out and found their locker empty, they thought their stuff had been stolen. Fortunately, the guards empty out any unlocked lockers in case there is a bomb.
You can not walk up to the entrance, but only get to come out that way. The cafeteria and restrooms can be accessed in the basement to the left, but don't leave line until you get your number.

The photo below kind of tells you when you need to get there....E A R L Y!

I would recommend six in the morning. If you follow other's advice and come at seven or eight, it might be too late. A lot of it depends on the cases that are being heard. Over 10,000 cases are submitted to the Supreme Court each year but less than 100 are heard.

The ten o'clock case on this particular day had to do with generic drugs and whether they should be under the same scrutiny as brand name drugs (Actavis vs Gladys Mensing). The case I heard was regarding AT & T being told they have to provide certain connections for other companies (Talk America vs. Mich Bell Telephone).

If you are lucky (Allison was not lucky....it was just cold on my day), the sun will come up. If it is cold, dress in layers! I opted not to take my big cameras but there would have been room in the locker for them. Be sure and have a quarter with you. You will also have to stow your overcoat and scarf there and any books. Basically all you can take with you is your purse. The rest, you have to leave in the locker. You will go through another metal detector before you go into the courtroom. Don't fall asleep in there or you will be asked to leave and don't chew gum!
The line will begin forming between the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress.

I loved the rosy glow the buildings had on them as the sun came up. I asked Crystal to snap this photo of me.
Eventually, they will move the line up near the steps. Be sure to be in single file line when the numbers are handed out.

This group of college students from London were in line behind me and I really enjoyed talking to them. They went in the three minute line when we did not make it in for the first argument as there is no guarantee there will be any more taken in for the second argument.
In addition to the college students, I made friends with Crystal, from New Orleans. She is friends with one of the attorneys for the first case so she also opted to go to the three minute line.
Here is what the card looks like. They will take them up after the first group is taken in. You then have the option to get in the three minute line or to stay and try for the 11:00 argument. They will then come and give you new numbers. One of the people in front of me switched so my number ended up being 60. I would say they must have taken in an additional twenty for the second argument, but it is different every day. Sometimes they even have afternoon arguments. You can check the docket on the Supreme Court website.

It is entertaining just to watch the photo moments in front of the Supreme Court, such as this group doing their "jump".

I read in The Daily the next day that Justice Scalia had a wreck on the way to work on this day. His BMW had to be towed and he was issued a ticket. I guess that was one of the reasons he seemed a little grumpy. Some of the justices were cracking jokes with the attorneys. I am surprised that he was driving himself to the court, but I guess it is a personal preference.

I feel very fortunate to have made it into the courtroom. I had been there on a tour, but not when court was in session. It is definitely worth the try, but get there early and dress warmly if it is cold. I never was uncomfortable, but I had several layers of clothing!

No comments: