Monday, October 3, 2011

Left to Right: Me, fellow SCOTUS nerd Steven deMan, and our new friends from Seattle Vicki and Lorrie

I arrived on the Supreme Court's front steps at 6:45, armed with a large coffee and two coats. The Court has a pact with nature to test the resolve of those who wish to view arguments. Last week might have been beautiful summer weather in DC, but when the Court opens its doors (or side doors, as is presently the case) suddenly mild mornings give way to the wet and cold. Charming.

Fortunately, the small crowd that formed was unperturbed. "What are the cases that we're hearing today?" I overheard in the line, "I believe the first one is gay rights, and the second one is healthcare."

Ah, not quite. Today court watchers had the pleasure of hearing two cases that centered on standing doctrine, one case concerning the Medicaid program in California and the other a sex offender. No one was really getting sued, at least not yet. Everyone just wanted to know if they could. Before the real fun could begin, however, Chief Justice Roberts opened the new 2011 term with the usual administrative business - admitting the new members to the Supreme Court bar.

Almost any lawyer who has passed a state bar exam and has practiced for three years can apply to the Supreme Court Bar. During the ceremony, applicants can choose to have someone close to them speak to the bench on their behalf. I dare you not to tear up a little when someone's elderly mother quavers into the microphone that they are "satisfied they [the applicant] possesses the necessary qualifications." Chief Justice Roberts replies with a nod and, "Your motion has been granted, the applicant will be submitted."

(Justice Ginsburg is usually alone in making a point to look each applicant squarely in the eye as they stand to receive confirmation, but I believe I caught Justice Sotomayor doing the same.)

The Chief Justice also made an announcement today regarding the Lion of the Court, Justice Scalia. This term marks his 25th year, and as Justice Roberts quipped,

"The place has not been the same since."

Stay tuned for an analysis of the oral arguments for Reynolds v United States and the consolidated cases with Douglas v. Independent Living Center of Southern California.

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