I just arrived home after a whirlwind trip to our Nation’s Capitol. My friend Christine and I drove down there yesterday evening, and got up at THE CRACK OF DAWN today to stand in line for hours and hours in the hopes of getting in to watch oral argument at the United States Supreme Court (note: attending oral argument is one of the activities on my 30 before 30 list).
We got to DC in time for a delicious late dinner at Good Stuff Eatery.
Good Stuff is Chef Spike Mendelsohn’s (of Top Chef fame) hamburger joint. Considering Chef Spike has Bouchon and Le Cirque on his resume, he’s a bit overqualified for a hamburger joint…but these were good burgers, so who am I to judge?
This morning we woke up VERY EARLY, and were in line for SCOTUS at about 5:50 am. We were numbers 7 and 8 in line. We were strategic– since I had been shut out from watching oral argument before, we made sure to pick a day where the argument isn’t on hot-button issues (arguments on gun rights, abortion rights, etc have been known to have people line up for seats well over 24 hours in advance, and there’s no guarantee there will be public seats available at all). We also made sure to get there EARLY…yes, we were in line at 5:50 for arguments beginning at 10:00 am. That’s a lot of waiting.
The Capitol Building at 5:50 in the morning.
SCOTUS, once the sun started creeping up in the sky.
So we got in line at 5:50, and then around 7:00 they moved the line up the steps. Around 7:15 they gave us our numbered seating cards. Around 7:30, they let us in the building where we got to wait in line some more.
Law students LOVE to watch the Supreme Court. There were law students in front of us, and law students in back of us. Law students love to hear their own voices, and think that the things coming out of their mouths are very very impressive. These are cream-of-the-crop gunners. I was subjected to HOURS of prattle about every case these people had ever read ever, every historical fact about the District of Columbia that they could pull from their brains, the name of EVERY important (or semi-important) person they or their parents had ever met VERY LOUDLY ANNOUNCED. One girl talked for 25 minutes nonstop about the Anna Nicole Smith bankruptcy case. If you want to watch SCOTUS, brace yourself for the experience of line chatter. Better yet, bring earplugs. (Note: an iPod won’t work. I tried listening to my iPod. Their banshee screeches drown out the sound.)
When they moved the line inside, we all had our numbered cards, so we could go get breakfast and then put ourselves back into order without resorting to fisticuffs. At this point I got a breakfast sandwich and a coffee, and things were much better.
HELLO, we have waited in line for nearly four hours for the opportunity to listen to lawyers talk for two straight hours!!!
Around 9:30 we were finally seated in the courtroom. Around this time, I reflected on my childhood, and how there were multiple occasions in which I waited over three hours to ride the Star Tours ride at Disneyland. SCOTUS doesn’t involve a mischievous robot with poor flying skills (why not?) but at least this time at least the wait is for an event longer than 10 minutes.
Ok, so 9:30 they seat us in the courtoom. The public seats really suck. They are rickety wooden chairs wedged in between the pillars. Most have poor views of the Justices, and many provide no view whatsoever. We managed to get seats with an OK view. I always thought the Supreme Court had balcony seating, but it does not. I think I always imagined SCOTUS as the courtroom in To Kill A Mockingbird…that’s probably where I got the balcony idea from.
BUT THEN! Then a group that somehow had tickets for the VERY FIRST ROW IN THE GALLERY did not show up! And since we were WAY IN THE BEGINNING OF THE LINE, we got to sit there!!!
From the SCOTUS blog, here are the plain-language summaries of the issues in the arguments we watched today:
When the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, 43 U.S.C., §§ 1331-1356, provides that workers are eligible for compensation for “any injury occurring as the result of operations conducted on the outer Continental Shelf,” under what circumstances is an outer continental shelf worker (or his heir) who is injured on land eligible for compensation?
The Credit Repair Organizations Act protects consumers from deceptive practices by companies that offer services to help consumers repair bad credit. Can a credit repair company require its customers to agree to arbitrate any claims against it under that Act?
An argument on a habeus corpus issue was scheduled for the afternoon, but they took a lunch break at noon, and we would have had to fight through more lines to get back in the courtroom for that. Also, staying for that would have put us leaving DC much later, and we would have probably gotten stuck in beltway traffic, so we decided to skip it.
Reading those issues probably made your eyes glaze over, but they were pretty interesting arguments to me. Because the workers compensation issue involved so many statutes that I’m not familiar with, and because the issue is so narrow that the outcomes from the hypotheticals the Justices threw out varied so wildly, even with very minor factual variations, I got pretty confused.
The arbitrability question was pretty straightforward. Although the appellee’s argument was appealing (ha ha ha) because it was straightforward (i.e. look! this is what the statute says!) there is a pretty hefty body of interpretive caselaw that supports arbitrability of claims in similar circumstances…I really cannot see SCOTUS agreeing with the 9th circuit, and forbidding arbitration under this statute altogether.
Hangin’ out with Justice Marshall.
The Justices were all well prepared on the issues and ready to jump in with questions right away. Even though Justice Ginsberg looks like she should be knitting in a rocking chair, she was super-sharp and tossing out questions and clever comments left and right. Justices Sotomayor, Kennedy, Scalia and Alito were also plenty eager to engage the parties, and sometimes even throwing out so many questions that they were talking over each other. Justice Kagan asked several questions, but she seems less bold than the others, and it seems like she’s still finding her place within the Court. Justices Breyer and Roberts each asked a couple questions, but not many. Justice Thomas didn’t ask a thing, and kept leaaaning back in his chair and covering his eyes. I thought he was going to slide out of his chair and take a nap under the bench. He did not seem particularly interested to be there.
After argument, we strolled a few blocks away to DELICIOUS Bistro Cacao for lunch. I had this amazing appetizer of seared scallops and avocado and some sort of salad…it was delicious and beautiful.
I wanted to take a picture of its beauty, but got too excited and hungry and ate it all. So there’s my plate.
After lunch we had the long drive home. We spent the last 90 minutes with Christine (upon my request) telling me the entire story of all 5 of George R. R. Martin’s books, which isn’t such a bad way to spend a drive.