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Friday, February 21, 2020

Access to the Court

For the last ten years, I’ve taken groups of Villanova Law students to the Supreme Court of the United States almost annually to watch oral argument in cases, some relatively low profile, some blockbusters. We leave VERY early in the morning from Villanova Law (located in the greater Philadelphia area) to drive to 1 First Street NE in order to arrive by no later than 4:30 am. That timing is important because you need to secure a decent place in the public line to get in. The first 50 get in, 51 and later get rotated through for a few minutes of arguments.

Nowadays getting into the Court through the public line can be a bit like trying to get into a rock concert, especially with all the paid line standers — the going rate is about $50/hour, except when demand really surges  — camped out early on lawn chairs with blankets to cut the early morning chill. The line standers are often for interested lawyers who are not Supreme Court bar members. The Court polices the much shorter Supreme Court bar line, but only spontaneous order governs the public line -- a social norm of first in time with reasonable allowance for a tardy friend. Test that norm by bringing 10 friends, however, and you’re likely to risk triggering a Hobbesian state of nature. (During the U.S. v. Texas DAPA case, I witnessed a large group of uniformed private school students cut in line to join an adult claiming to "hold" a place for them. Those behind them were exceedingly unhappy; it almost escalated to violence.)

Once upon a time you could call the Marshal’s Office to ask for advance tickets, but in recent years I’ve had no success. Authoring an amicus brief or serving as counsel below doesn’t cut it for reserved seats - you get either the SCOTUS bar line or the public line. Still, when my bedraggled students and I finally get access to the courtroom (I typically remain with them in the public line in solidarity), we are always stunned at the (relatively) large number of people who arrive inside the Court at 9 am with ticketed seating and who are then seated preferentially. I’ve asked on occasion who these late ticketed arrivals are. Some have identified themselves as guests of the Justices and friends of friends of people connected to the Justices, such as students of prominent lawprofs who have clerked at the Court. Clerking on the Court confers big advantages that last a long time. It’s a nice privilege for those in the Club. For the have nots, though, access is stingy and ultimately discretionary. Perhaps, then, physical access to the Court isn't that different from legal access to it. It too is very limited, mostly discretionary, but greatly eased by knowing someone on "the inside."

UPDATE (March 2, 2020): The House has introduced legislation to make virtual Court access easier. Read the story at SCOTUS Blog.

Posted by T. Samahon on February 21, 2020 at 10:00 AM in Judicial Process | Permalink


In more professional terms, it is called:

" closed - circuit camera " or : cctv etc...

Posted by: El roam | Feb 21, 2020 1:53:03 PM

There is indeed a solution. Although technology is not an issue here ( but banning broadcasting to the greater public simply, all, for substantive reasons):

If the problem is that they don't have enough seats, it bears very simply solution:

Virtual rooms. Means, to televise it, only for people, inside the building, sitting in other rooms ( suppose 300 more persons) they watch the oral arguments, in huge screens, but, it is only for the physical viewers, presents there, not for the greater public.

As such, the ban is held, but, more people can enter and watch live streaming of oral arguments.Which is practically the same as seeing actually the show (even better).

Technically, it is very simple.....

Posted by: El roam | Feb 21, 2020 1:19:38 PM

@ Larry: Indeed, if only!

Posted by: T. Samahon | Feb 21, 2020 12:27:39 PM

If only there was a technological solution that would allow anyone, anywhere to watch a Supreme Court argument from the comfort of his or her home or office.

Posted by: Larry Cunningham | Feb 21, 2020 11:44:24 AM

@El roam (11:30:17 AM): To clarify, the SCOTUS prohibition applies to members of the Supreme Court bar, which does not extend to lawyers not admitted to the SCOTUS bar. Non-SCOTUS bar attorneys regularly use paid standing services in the public line.

Posted by: T. Samahon | Feb 21, 2020 11:40:35 AM

Very interesting, also that related article ( " Supreme Court tells lawyers: Stand in line yourselves. You can't pay others to hold a spot" ). Some facts or points from there, I quote simply :

" The court announced on its first day of the new term Monday something that previously had seemed unnecessary to spell out: “Only Bar members who actually intend to attend argument will be allowed in the line for the Bar section; ‘line standers’ will not be permitted."

" In other words, lawyers cannot pay someone to hold a spot for them when the court has a big argument — or even send one of the firm’s lowly associates."

" people pay up to $50 an hour to have someone secure one of several hundred spots in the grand marble chamber."

" A couple of years ago, Slate.com found that some were paying about $6,000 for the multi-day ordeal required to ensure admittance through the public line for an oral argument on same-sex marriage. (The court’s directive Monday did not change the rules for the public.) Similar camp-outs have occurred when the court confronted Second Amendment cases and the Affordable Care Act. "

" The homeless are often employed to wait in line"

"Gabe Roth, leader of Fix the Court, a group that advocates for greater transparency at the Supreme Court, said the court’s move shows that it at least understands there is a problem."

“The best way to meet the increased demand for entry into Supreme Court hearings, both from members of the Supreme Court Bar and from the general public, is for the court to end its broadcast media ban,” he said."

" If nothing else, make the audio of the arguments live, he said, so the public has the same access as the lawyers. "

But great reading.....


Posted by: El roam | Feb 21, 2020 11:30:17 AM

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