So the Supreme Court heard the DC v. Heller arguments yesterday and I was lucky enough to be able to be there in person for the hearing. I’m not going to go into summarizing the arguments made by the parties and how the Justices seemed to be leaning aside from saying that: 1) I don’t think this will be a landmark case, I believe the Court will issue a very specific ruling tailored to the DC ban on handguns; and 2) I think they’ll uphold the lower court’s overruling the ban. I won’t go into summarizing the arguments because, well, I fell asleep a few times. Not because it was boring (it wasn’t), but because the sleepover waiting in line was difficult.
For those that don’t know, Supreme Court hearings are open to the public on a limited basis. The courtroom seats about 250, but those lawyers on the Supreme Court bar and other VIP get priority, the rest left to the public. Each case is different on how many seats end up available to the public and apparently the Heller case was one of the most limited/in demand in recent years. People wanted a spot in the courtroom so bad that they began waiting in line on the sidewalk outside the courthouse on Sunday at about 2pm. I arrived, with two friends, on Monday at 6pm and we ended up being numbers 56, 57, and 58 in line (some nice Harvard Law student named Sarah (person #8, I think) took it upon herself to create a list so that there would be no cutters later). Everyone had different accounts as to how many would be let in, some saying as few as 30, others saying 50-60, 70-80 or 100. So we decided to give it a shot and hoped for the best.
We had come straight from class so we didn’t have any gear for a sleepover in DC on a winter night. One at a time, we went home and got our sleeping bags, big coats, snacks and whatnot (tents are NOT allowed). It was supposed to be 30 degrees that night so bundling up was necessary. We read our case books, played cards, and I watched a few episodes of LOST on my ipod to pass the time. We even had pizza delivered to our spot in line, pretty convenient. Eventually we all passed out around midnight, hoping to get the best rest possible while sleeping on a concrete. Ah, urban camping. Sounds exciting doesn’t it. OK, not really. A large group near us had apparently decided to pull an all-nighter and wouldn’t shut up. So I woke up at 2:30am, 4:30am and finally woke up for good at 6:30am. I know what time I woke up because I looked on my ipod, which I had to put on loop so I wouldn’t hear the group talking and could fall asleep. I don’t know why I didn’t ask them to keep it down, guess it was because I was all kinds of discombobulated.
Anyway, we all awoke around 6:30am, mostly because the police came around telling everyone to get up and their stuff packed up. A group in front of us had a car parked around the corner so we were able to throw our sleeping bags and stuff in it (THANKS GUYS!). Otherwise, the Supreme Court has lockers (like those in bus/train depots, you know, those 1ft cubed ones), so we could have done that. Oh, and the courthouse has a coat/bag check. So we all stand in line on the sidewalk and Sarah goes by checking the list making sure there were no people who snuck in line. At 8:30, the police then came by and handed out tickets numbered 1 through 75 and had us move the line to the steps of the courthouse. There were well over 100 people in line by this point, so those that didn’t get a ticket were obviously discouraged. The ticket, mind you, was no guarantee of a seat in the hearing, just a way for the court security to keep track of how many people they’ve let in whenever they start doing so.
Media, which had been there the previous evening interviewing us devoted (read: crazy) people who waiting in line overnight, were amassing as were proponents of gun rights and the ban. One group I found interesting was the “Second Amendment Sisters, Inc.” They incorporated themselves. That’s hilarious. Anyway, we all waited in line until about 9am when they started letting people in. We were moving closer, our moment had finally arrived. BUT NO. They stopped at 50! Just 7 spots away. I was crushed. No information was given as to whether any more would be let in (or that no more would be let in), keeping our hopes alive, but barely. I knew that arguments started at 10, promptly, with seating done by 9:45 at the latest. So there was a time frame. We shuffled our feet, trying to keep warm. The three of us in my group played odds-evens to decide who was 56, 57, and 58 just in case some got let in and others didn’t. Finally, at 9:40, god showed himself. 12 final people were let in. AHHHHHHHH. While those behind us were crushed, we were exuberant. Our work had paid off. I walked up the steps to the doors of the courthouse, turned around to see the mass of suckers who didn’t get in and raised my fists in glory. At this point in law school, I will take whatever accomplishments I can get.
After checking our coats and bags and being told the rules (no electronics, no talking, no noise making of any kind…in fact if you so much as even sneeze you’re out. Just kidding about the last one), we headed into the courtroom. We were seated in the last row, with a horrible view and absolutely no leg room. I did have a view of 7 of the Justices (Breyer, Thomas, Kennedy, Stevens, Roberts, Scalia, and sometimes Souter) and the back of the lawyer’s head when they stood up to speak, but that mostly involved leaning over into the person next to me so that’d didn’t happen that often. [See a seating chart here.] Because I only slept intermittently that night, I started to doze off a few times. I felt bad about it until I saw Justice Thomas doing the same thing. That or he likes to think with his eyes closed for extended periods of time.
So of the hearing, the things that surprised me were that Justice Thomas napped (he asked two questions in the beginning, proceeded to rock in his chair, then napped for a while, then resumed rocking), that the lawyers didn’t seem comfortable speaking (one stuttered a lot at the beginning), and that the lawyers interrupted Justice Ginsburg. When the lawyer was giving their argument and Justice Ginsburg would interrupt with a question, as is customary for judges to do, the lawyer would just continue on talking as if she wasn’t trying to interject, and she would just stop talking. They did this to no other Justice. Maybe it’s because she is so meek, but I thought it was unbelievably rude. Anyway, it’s really anticlimactic because the lawyers give their arguments, the Justices ask questions and then you’re dismissed. There is no ruling (at least not until June for this one), and there was really no tension. While the whole thing was a pretty cool experience, I will not go urban camping again. So it goes. To conclude: me and Justice Thomas, two peas in a pod (minus the whole coke can thing).