I was in Washington earlier today to watch oral arguments in Ricci v. DeStefano, the case in which I filed my own amicus brief.
I arrived in Washington around 11:30pm and, after a friend told me that no one was in line at the Court, we got chinese food in Chinatown. We got food and returned to the Court around 2:00 and ran into Ryan Bates and a group of the firefighters who had arrived around 12:30. We searched in vain for coffee and most sat around doing very little. Coffee came around 5:00 but for the most part, nothing of substance happened until 7:00a. Waiting in line for that long is never easy, but fortunately Norman Pattis, of the firm with which Karen Torre is Of Counsel, was behind us in line and happened to be a fascinating person. He was leaving DC that afternoon to have dinner with Sonia Sotomayor!
At 7:00a, the Court handed out tickets to everyone and allowed us to enter the building to get food at the cafeteria and use the restrooms. We reconvened in line at 8:45 and they initially allowed the first 50 people to enter the chamber. As #11, I was never terribly concerned about getting in, but there was always a threat that seats had been delegated away by parties.
Shortly after we filed into the courtroom, Attorney General Eric Holder and Solicitor General Elena Kagan walked in with a slew of people from the Justice Department. I saw Michael Dreeben (3rd most arguments completed amongst living people) and a few other attorneys from the SG’s office.
The Court convened and the Chief Justice asked Solicitor General Kagan to the podium. She formally introduced Attorney General Holder to the Court and he delivered a few short remarks. As he was going back to his seat, the Chief announced the decision in Nken v. Holder to a jovial courtroom chuckle. The Court had decided against the newly-minted Attorney General 7-2, with Justice Thomas joining a dissenting opinion written by Justice Alito.
After the customary 5-minute (ish) synopsis of the majority opinion, the Chief Justice asked a number of attorneys to the podium to introduce new members of the SCOTUS bar in open court. At one point, an attorney introduced his own wife and, to uproarious laughter, emphasized the standard declaration of the fitness of her character.
You can find a transcript of the arguments in Ricci here. Argument began with Gregory S. Coleman for the petitioners. Coleman was allowed to get about 30 seconds into his case before Justice Stevens interrupted to begin questioning.
Justice Kennedy asked some interesting hypotheticals during oral argument about whether or not cities should be forced to take statistically race neutral tests at every opportunity. You can find much more thorough recaps of the arguments by SCOTUSblog and the NYT.
I’ve been inside the courtroom before but I’ve never seen it packed with so many people before. The room is smaller than many people imagine but can be packed to fit a surprisingly large number of people. We are always reminded of “old” and “young” justices, but when I saw them all lined up, my first impression was that they are all, for lack of a better word, old. Justice Scalia is often called a ‘relatively-young’ Justice, but at 72 years-old, he is still above the average retirement age for someone in his economic class.
After arguments are complete, the Chief Justice submits the case and the Justices immediately swing around in their chairs and exit the courtroom. Justice Ginsburg had a bit of trouble getting out of her seat and Justice Souter had to help her up.
It is my firm belief that, for a portion of oral arguments, Justice Clarence Thomas read my amicus brief. Here is my evidence to support that claim:
After arguments, we immediately left the courtroom and congregated in the main hall leading out onto the steps. I ran into a person who I thought was Ted Olson in the cloakroom, but it turned out to be legendary conservative commentator George Will. We exited for the steps where we were greeted by a number of journalists and curious spectators. I saw the woman of my dreams- Nina Totenberg!!
After some of the crowds dispersed, I introduced myself to many of the parties involved in arguments and in the case. Edwin Kneedler was just as interesting and professorial as I had expected. He answered some of my questions about the most active advocates before the Court and I can now say with more authority that Lawrence Wallace has argued more than anyone else alive, Mr. Kneedler is next, and Michael Dreeben third. After that, I believe Carter G. Phillips came into fourth this year and Andrew Frey is slipped into fifth after being in third for several years.
Christopher J. Meade, the arguing attorney for the respondents, was incredibly interesting and kind. He delivered arguments that would have been impressive for some of the advocates I just listed, but this was only his fourth time before the Supreme Court. I told him after the arguments that I thought he presented a very strong case and that, even though I filed a brief for petitioners, I was somewhat sympathetic to his side. He asked me to blog about it if I really felt that way, and here it is!