The Line

Have you ever crossed the protest line of a gaggle of abortion protestors while pregnant?  I have.

The Supreme Court almost always has some anti-abortion protestors forming a line in front of the Court when there’s oral argument scheduled.  My memory of that day was sparked by the recent New York Times article about the crowd waiting in line for oral argument at the U.S. Supreme Court. The article touched a chord with me for two reasons. First, it features a Georgetown Law student, Mike Sacks, and introduced me to his blog First One @ One First. Mr. Sacks is a man on a mission, and as a fellow GULCer, his drive didn’t exactly surprise me, but it did impress me. And second, it brought back fond memories of being a Georgetown Law student myself, and spending many hours reviewing cert. petitions in the clerk’s office as a research assistant.

Thankfully, though, I’ve never had to go to the extremes that Mr. Sacks does to witness oral argument at the high court. The first time I went, I did the quickie “come in for five minutes and go out again” line, as at that point I was more interested in just being in the same room with the Court for a moment than actually hearing the argument.

The last time I went, I was lucky enough to be a guest of a Justice (or more accurately, a guest of a former Supreme Court clerk who kindly pulled strings and got me on the Justice’s guest list). My feet and my pregnant belly were both very grateful to not have to wait in the long line on that snowy, cold day in December — it was one of the many days where one of the cases was Very Big News, and even the special Supreme Court Bar members line was impossibly long. I was lucky enough to be able to go right past the Public Line and the Bar Line and get whisked through security and straight into a seat in the second row.

I was there to see the argument in State Farm v. Campbell, as I had helped write a Petition for Certiorari for an Oregon punitive damages case that raised similar issues. (Once State Farm was decided, the Court granted certiorari in our case and remanded with instructions to reconsider in light of State Farm). Larry Tribe argued the case for the Respondents, and it was very cool to see him in action. I came for Campbell, but I also got to witness the argument in Virginia v. Black, in which the Court considered the constitutionality of Virginia’s anti-cross burning statute under the First Amendment. My strongest memory of the argument that day was the fact that Justice Thomas, who is generally known for his silence at oral argument, actually SPOKE. He spoke, and I witnessed it.

I still count it as one of the most surreal moments of my life, crossing a line of Roe v Wade protestors with my first unborn baby along for the ride. And then hearing Nina Totenberg describe everything I had just witnessed as I was listening to NPR on the drive home.