Thursday, March 28, 2013

Spring Break in the District

Experiencing SCOTUS

The Supreme Court of the United States, like most offices within the federal government, offers free entrance and tours to visitors. And, as part of the CMC Program Orientation, Dr. Spalding typically arranges an opportunity for the class to visit the Court and meet with some of the clerks during the visit...

Some of the more touristy features of the Court include touching the foot of John Marshal in hopes of gaining some good luck during law school. 
... however, no tour or visit to the Court can match experiencing the Court in action especially during controversial cases dealing with the Constitutionality of legislation like California's Prop 8 and the US Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). 

Getting In

Most people, as I've come to realize, are not aware that the Court hearings are open to all members of the general public. This is probably because the majority of the seating in the Court is reserved for lawyers and witnesses of the case, members of the Supreme Court Bar and member of the press. As a result, the 'gen pop' must often wait in long lines and sometimes even camp out for several days in order to gain a ticket. 

Day Two of my urban camping adventure. Credit for this photo belongs to the European Pressphoto Agency.   
On Sunday night, after the line (which began on Thursday night) had extended for more than one block, reporters from around the world became eager to understand why people were so interested in waiting in line. After all wait really was insane, not to mention cold, wet, and dirty. 

Through the misery of waiting in line, I became friends with the people around me. Among them was a law student from Boston, Massachusetts who was there because of his interest in Constitutional Law and to show support for equal rights. Also present was an Army veteran and equal rights activist from Mountain View, California who wanted the right to marry her longtime partner; and, a couple from New York City who had been following the DOMA case since the District Court hearing. Like the woman from California, the New Yorkers also wanted the right to marry and enjoy the federal benefits of married people - including the right to sponsor a person for citizenship. 

In the time we spent waiting in line, we chatted about where we came from, why we were there and our predictions about the Court's ruling. While I could have stayed home and read about the different stakeholder groups that where interested in the cases and I could have read incredibly intelligent people's predictions about the cases, I chose to camp out during some of DC's worst winter weather alongside a group of strangers; because I personally felt that this was an important piece of my understanding and promotion of civil rights. The people I met in my time camping out were all there for different reasons and they each uniquely affected my understanding of the impact of  Prop 8, DOMA, and eventually the Court's ruling on individual people - which was probably the most incredible and valuable piece of my experience.

I've got the Golden Red Ticket

At seven thirty Tuesday morning, after having camped outside the Court since Sunday afternoon, a Supreme Court officer distributed the long sought after tickets. 

After waiting in line for 3 days, I was given ticket number 38.
This picture was taken as the first 50 people waited to enter the Court.  
The excitement of entering the Court didn't really set in until I stood at the top of the marble staircase in front of the Court holding my ticket - at which point the group of friends I had made cheered and hugged.

Once inside, we had an opportunity to have breakfast in the SCOTUS cafeteria and freshen up before we went into the Court room.

In side the Court, I sat in the first row reserved for the general public - just across from the Lt. Governor of California ;) 

As I do not mean for this to be a political post, I won't discuss the argument details of the hearing (a full transcript can be found at the Supreme Court's website). However, I will note, one of the more interesting insights that I had was of the Justice's themselves. Prior to attending the hearing, I gave little consideration to who the Justice's were and how even in a removed context, each one of them seemed to represent certain groups/ factions of America. Additionally, I never expected the Justice's to have nearly as much personality or sharp humor as they expressed during either of the hearings.  

Leaving the Court

At the end of the hearing, I walked out the center doors of the Court and stood in amazement as I looked down on the crowd that had amassed during the hearing. 
Demonstrators outside of the Court on March 26. 
While my mind was busy trying to process the Justice's concerns and the arguments being made, I decided I needed to take a moment to de-brief and process what had just happened. Instead I walked down the steps of the Court and was immediately swarmed by reporters wanting a personal perspective of the case and activists who wanted to know what just happened. One woman in particular was not shy about her demands to know if the Court would grant the case Cert and make a decision (a common fear among those who support marriage equality). 

Round Two - DOMA

After collecting all my stuff on Tuesday afternoon, I needed to sleep in a proper bed and I really needed a warm shower. So, I headed for home knowing that I'd return early the next morning to watch the Court hear the DOMA case. 

Waiting in line to enter the Court on Wednesday, March 27. 

 Like the Prop 8 case, as I waited in line (although this time for a much shorter time) I chatted with the people around me. Additionally, on Wednesday I had the opportunity to enjoy more of the outside demonstrations.

Although I was unwilling to camp out another
night, I was able to get into the three minute line 
and see some of the DOMA case.

In addition to offered tickets to listen in on the entire hearing, there is also a 3 minute line for people who cannot afford to wait in line or people who merely want a glimpse of the Court at work.
After having a chance to hear the cases and see the Court in action, I was eager to go home and begin a much needed relaxing Spring Break filled with sleep, TV, delivery food and more sleep. 

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