Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Still Getting over the Shock of It All..

So I'm sitting in my office on Friday afternoon. Like many people, I was ready to go home and enjoy my weekend just about as soon as I got there on Friday morning. But alas, it was about 3:30, I had two hours of work left to do (and I had plenty of work to do, which was good).

Microsoft Outlook sends me a notification saying that I have a new email at work. This is nothing new; the DOJ relies exceedingly heavily on email. I get about 20 work emails a day, even as an intern. But this one looked a bit promising.... so I read it immediately. It was a former DOJ attorney offering me a ticket at a Supreme Court hearing. .... I hesitated, read it again, and again, and a 4th time before it sunk in. All I had to do was email back a confirmation as soon as possible. I ran into my boss' office to confirm that I was allowed to go (I knew he would say yes, but still, I thought I should be polite). He of course said "go for it!" I emailed it back and spent the rest of the afternoon reading the briefs for Mohawk Industries v. Carpenter, the case I would be seeing.

Sunday night my boss calls my cell phone at about 8:30p. He asked if I had been following ScotusBlog over the weekend. I had a somewhat busy weekend, so I responded in the negative. He replied that the first case, North Carolina v. South Carolina was rescheduled due to a family emergency, so, if I could get to the office on Monday morning at 8:30am, we had a chance of being able to see the 10am hearing, Maryland v. Shatzer, followed by my originally scheduled Mohawk Industries case. I was beyond ecstatic. Not only would I get to see two cases, but the first two cases of the Court's regularly scheduled docket (following the early hearing of the Citizens United case this summer).

I get to work at 8:29, and share an elevator upstairs with my equally excited boss. We get into our respective offices, and check our email to find a notice from our contact at the Court saying that unfortunately, due to all the switching around, we can no longer have the seats promised to us. I was crushed, and spend the first two hours of my day trying to motivate myself to work. After working myself up to see the Court, analyzing discovery materials just didn't seem so cool anymore.

But, the story gets better! At 10:27 there's a knock at my office door (I keep my office door closed because I'm in a "public" hallway, outside the office proper, so there's lots of noise as people run by doing their business; it's not as quiet as in the office proper.) My boss enters, and, in what seemed like a 5 minute speech, but was probably no longer than 30 seconds, tells me that a last-second seat had opened up! I had 10 minutes to go from 5th and E to the Supreme Court. I threw my jacket on and ran out the door.

As I exited the building I called my dad, the one person I knew who, without fail, would be in front of a computer. "Dad, get onto Google Maps. I'm at 5th and E. Get me to the Supreme Court!" I was probably shouting, but I was running and thinking so fast that I dispensed with the pleasantries. As my dad directed me down E to 5th, over to D, down to Pennsylvania, and onto Constitution, I suddenly could see the Capitol in sight. I knew I was going the right way. I ran like I've never run before (in a suit, tie and dress shoes, no less), down Constitution Avenue in the heart of the city. My boss told me that I had to be on line by 10:40 to get into the 11:00am hearing.

I did the Rocky run up the Supreme Court steps at 10:39. I had to find the Marshall's Office. "Composure," I reminded myself. "Keep your composure and don't screw this one up." A very helpful officer, maybe seeing the mix of adrenaline, fear, and excitement, directed me into a side door to the Marshall's Office. I checked in with the person I had to see, and got in line to enter the Court. Although I was still catching my breath, I was suddenly in the gorgeous main hall of the Court. It suddenly started to hit me where I was, and what was waiting behind the big wooden doors. My heart started beating quickly; I was surrounded by a group of lawyers who got tickets all the time as members of the Supreme Court Bar. Here I was, a representative of the Justice Department, among all these lawyers, just trying to compose myself. It was completely surreal.

The doors opened, the Marshalls escorted us to our seats, and I was seated inside a room that is beyond comprehension. This is room where Brown v. Board of Education was argued, Roe v. Wade, and hundreds of other cases that I have studied in my time at American. The red curtains ruffled, and the justices entered the room. I'm sitting on one of those wooden benches you see in the picture, basically dead center. Justice Roberts sits in the middle seat. To his left (in seniority order), Justices Stevens, Kennedy, Ginsberg, and Alito. To his right, Scalia, Thomas, Breyer, and Sotomayor. The case begins. I'm too enthralled to actually understand what's going on, but all I know is that I think Thomas and Scalia had a joke telling contest going, and Sotomayor asked the majority of questions.

In another thrilling bit of choreography, at exactly the one hour mark, Justice Roberts announced, "Case submitted." All nine justices got up in unison and exited through the red curtains back to their robing room. The crowd stands with them, and then slowly files out. The experience at the Supreme Court is one that I will never forget, and I am so unbelievably grateful that the DOJ offered me this ticket. I can't wait to go back.

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