I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

First, some background

The court heard three cases today; my friend Paul Kleven was arguing the last case, at 1 pm. I had a reserved seat for that argument, but I wanted to listen to the 10 am and 11 am cases as well. I had never realized -- I suppose I never really thought about it -- that oral arguments are open to the public. You just show up and stand in line, and if there's a seat available you can stay as long as the court's in session.

It hadn't started snowing yet, but it was windy and cold when I got to the court around 8:30, and there was no one in line in the plaza. The policeman I asked for directions told me to talk to officers on the other side of the stairs, and those officers just waved me to the side door. After going through security, I  wandered around large marble hallways without a clue as to where I should go (though I did run into Paul and had a chance to talk briefly with him while he waited in the line for Bar members) before finally being told that I needed to go back outside and get in line as I'd originally tried to do.

Now there was a line outside, and orange numbered tickets were being distributed. I realized afterwards that I must have arrived just as the early arrivals were being escorted inside so the plaza was empty and the police assumed I was a straggler. I wasn't the only one who mistakenly went in without a ticket -- a couple came out a few minutes after I got in line. They'd made it all the way to the courtroom door, and had already left their outerwear in the lockers, so they had to wait in line with no coats. (They were not happy.)

Eventually we were let back inside. I went through security again, stood in a line, went up some stairs, put everything in a locker, stood in another line, went through another security check, stood in another line, and was finally escorted into the courtroom, where the first argument was just beginning.

The courtroom itself seems surprisingly small at first, the size of a movie theatre in an art house multiplex, especially compared to the huge, very grand marble foyer just outside. There's an ornate ceiling of carved white flowers with red and blue backgrounds, and just below a very beautiful marble frieze of allegorical figures and (I looked it up later) famous lawgivers including Moses, Mohammed and Confucius. Below the frieze, there are Ionic columns and red draperies with gold trim. It's all very solemn and classical, except for a very ugly clock right over the Chief Justice's head and even uglier Venetian blinds on the ceiling-high windows on either side of the courtroom -- just so you remember that, Greek columns and fancy curtains aside, this is still a government building.

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