A Duke friend and I camped out at the Supreme Court on June 25-26 to hear the Court announce its DOMA and Prop 8 decisions. I’d thought up a million reasons why Thursday would be the final day, but the justices confounded our careful planning. Immediately after Shelby County came down, we dropped everything, packed, and hit the road.
We arrived at the First Street sidewalk around 6:40 P.M. The cluster of Courtwatchers who’d beaten us to the front actually tried to impose order by having new arrivals “sign up” for spots in line. We played along, if only to solidify our coveted positions. (We inexplicably dropped from 20 and 21 on The List to 25 and 26 in Wednesday morning’s group of confirmed ticket-holders.)
[scroll over photographs for time stamps]
Not wanting to propagate our useless predictions, we resolved not to feed reporters any quotes worth repeating. We did have a fun chat with Slate’s Emma Roller, who included us in her blog post on SCOTUS campers.
A real Saturnalia at First Street.
Most everyone was still awake around 2 A.M.
Around 2:30 A.M., cameras began setting up for the morning news, and they never really left. One station recorded the same ten-second DOMA segment over and over. And over. It really started to grind, as did the random guffaws. With these critically important disturbances and the occasional bathroom commute, I managed a few hours of torpor, but no real sleep.
SCOTUSville sprang to life as the morning rays fueled our anticipation of Wednesday’s impending history. One cameraman atoned for his tribe’s crepuscular commotion by allowing me to charge my iPhone on his power strip. Through his kindness, I bring you the rest of these photos!
If that law-school thing doesn’t work out…
Williams talks to NBC’s Matt Lauer live on The Today Show:
CBS’ Jan Crawford:
Delicious donuts, courtesy of SCOTUSblog! Dan Stein, the intern you see here, became quite the internet sensation. (I was once turned down for a SCOTUSblog internship; no hard feelings!)
This woman and her partner sat to my left inside the Court:
Officer Smith, revivifier of groggy bivouackers:
Officer Smith distributed tickets at 7:30. He initially handed out 47, though I know far more than 47 members of the general public witnessed the entire sitting.
Our triumphal march to the Plaza:
We went through security at 7:40. They gave us fifty minutes to eat breakfast and reassemble, whereupon we waited thirty minutes for absolutely nothing to happen.
As fate would have it, I ate breakfast right next to the SCOTUSblog live-blog crew. It’s a surprisingly simple set-up:
Ticketholders lining up after breakfast:
The SCOTUS police escorted us upstairs shortly after 9 A.M. I checked my backpack and lawn chair, then passed through a second line of security. I took my seat in the Court at 9:12. I watched the Term’s final day unfold from the sixth row of benches in the center “column.”
Mark Walsh contributed a great piece to SCOTUSblog on what it was like inside the Court on Wednesday. This post isn’t meant to be nearly as thorough; I’m no reporter. But I did take notes, so I’ll just add a few things.
This was William Suter’s last public day as Clerk of the Court. I remember thinking (and wrote down), “this doesn’t look like someone preparing to retire.” Suter looked as strong and managerial as ever. He’s an awfully young 75.
Lots and lots of empty seats remained at 9:25. Only two or three “reserved” benches were full. The press started trickling in at 9:34.
Neal Katyal arrived at 9:33, Don Verrilli at 9:50, Walter Dellinger at 9:53. Katyal and Verrilli chatted for a couple of minutes (9:51-52). Both were smiling profusely. They’re clearly great friends, despite any past disagreements about litigation strategy. Dellinger and Verrilli exchanged grins and back pats at 9:53. Walsh was absolutely right that “[t]hese SGs seem to have a special bond.”
I spotted three entirely empty rows at 9:54, and plenty of empty seats in other rows. Still several empty seats at 9:59.
If the justices march to the clock inside the Court, they appeared thirty seconds late. The Chief wasted no time announcing that “in case 12-307, United States v. Windsor, Justice Kennedy has the opinion of the Court.”
From the moment Kennedy started reciting the facts, I knew how the case would come out. (No, really, we all did.) He looked truly happy, completely at peace with his monumental decision, as if he knew history would worship him for it. I giggled when he pronounced BLAG like “blog” – someone should start a BLAG Blog, to rival the Bob Loblaw Law Blog.
Audible amazement ensued when Kennedy revealed that Windsor rested on Due Process and Equal Protection grounds, and not on structural principles of federalism, as his entire oral presentation had led us (or at least those of us who took Conlaw with Ernie Young) to believe. I wrote that it sounded like a gust of wind rushed through the Court. I certainly contributed by inhaling loudly. Windsor wasn’t unanimous like Brown, since justices dissented on standing and on the merits, but the analogy immediately took hold in my mind. The same-sex couple to my left cried and embraced. It was incredibly moving. As far as my subjective perceptions of relative historical significance, Windsor wipes the floor with the ACA arguments. Kennedy’s mini-oration may be the most memorable thing I witness in my entire life. So I can’t say I regret the drive.
Kennedy maintained an even temperament throughout Justice Scalia’s verbal dissent. It takes no small dose of equanimity to sit stone-faced as a colleague condemns your opinion’s “diseased root” and mourns its “revolution in our jurisprudence.” That said, I think this will go down as an all-time classic Scalia dissent, maybe on par with Morrison v. Olson. I wrote that “for AS, this is about democracy and its judicial usurpation.”
For many in the audience, Scalia’s dissent was one last tribulation to endure before receiving full emancipation from DOMA’s dying ethos. Having no such emotional dog in the fight, I cracked pirate jokes when Scalia characterized Windsor‘s characterization of DOMA’s supporters as hostes humani generis. Regardless of your life story, it’s hard not to chuckle at such Antoninisms as “unhinged members of a wild-eyed lynch mob.”
Justice Thomas let out a mighty laugh when Scalia misspoke while reading Sekhar. As with Windsor, the outcome was obvious. I wrote, “reversal was predictable after intro (body language, tone, etc.).”
After Chief Justice Roberts got going, Perry‘s holding surprised no one. I wrote, “first principles about standing – obvious where this is going. Petitioners have no particularized interest in defending Prop 8. … exactly!”
At 10:37, by my angle, the Chief announced that the Court had acted upon all cases submitted for its decision. He then paid short tributes to four SCOTUS employees retiring before the first Monday in October (William Suter among them). I’ve now “seen” seven retirements, including those of Justice Stevens and Frank Wagner, Reporter of Decisions from 1987 to 2010.
The woman to my left issued an unsubdued “WHOO!” as we filed out of the Courtroom. What a difference Windsor made to her.
Before you could say “blockbuster,” dozens of us lined up for printed copies of Wednesday’s slip opinions:
The SCOTUSblog team, still ruling America at 10:51 A.M.
Chief Justice Taney’s judicial robe, just because:
Leaving the Court:
Wednesday’s crowd was considerably tamer than last year’s ACA demonstrators, probably because the date hadn’t been scheduled for months.
Cato’s Ilya Shapiro:
Ted Boutrous and David Boies, who represented Prop 8’s challengers:
Boies with CNN’s Gloria Borger:
Gloria Borger learning that Ted Olson couldn’t be here for Perry:
Barney Frank arrives:
Frank signed my friend Kyle’s Windsor opinion:
Officer Smith, SCOTUS-line legend.
And for good measure, I saw this sign several hours later. I guess the school’s mascot is a Cardozo clerk?