no. (roses_rejoice) wrote,

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weird scenes inside the influence mine (part I)

I made my annual pilgrimage to the Supreme Court this morning to hear oral argument in the Newdow "Pledge of Allegiance" case. You know, that guy with a medical degree, a law degree, some kind of "reverend" status among atheists (?) and no doubt an ego the size of California, who claims his born-again ex-gf forced him to have sex in Yosemite National Park, causing her to conceive this kid who he apparently can't get custody of and so has decided to take it out on kiddo's school district for supposedly "coercing" said kid into reciting "under God" in her Pledge of Allegiance each morning. (Her mom said it was OK.) Or something. Ain't that America?

Whatever. I like God and the First Amendment but I personally couldn't care less whether we pledge "under God" or "under the Jolly Green Giant", given that nobody makes me pledge anything I don't want to and that Eisenhower, one of my least favorite modern presidents, threw in the "under God" verbiage. I also think politicians glom onto mass-hot-button semantics like this as a way of avoiding More Important Difficult Issues, such as wars, lack of good stable jobs, and other minor little bugaboos like that. I was mostly interested in seeing what kind of argument Newdow would make pro se and how good he would be at arguing. On the one hand, he is smart, went to a good law school and likely has had quite a bit of moot court coaching by this point in the proceedings. On the other hand, appellate argument, especially at the S Ct level, is a highly specialized art form, and most people like Newdow who have significant interest group interest/backing realize they're better off engaging one of the well-known high court gunners who can argue in their sleep.

I like to drop round to the Court about once a year, the same way I like to visit nice old churches. Not so much because I consider them Exalted Holy Temples; the Court is peopled with familiar, yet fallible, human justices, the same way churches can contain doddering old priests who give the exact same sermon over and over. Given my law school's proximity to the Court (it's literally just up the road a piece), we students were always being encouraged to go there and given free tix for the boring sentencing-guideline-type cases. After awhile, the Court, like church, started to feel like my own living room with fancier architecture. It's quiet and restful and I can think in there and knock the tangly cobwebs and worries out of my brain. And it brings back nice memories of my dad, of feeling all excited about first year law school, of the year I worked for the mooting Institute and heard all these cool cases argued in advance - VAWA, Gay Boy Scouts and a bunch more. In all the years I've lived here, I've never gotten around to observing Congress in session (nothing restful or thoughtful there, I daresay) but I've been to oral argument at the Court at least six times.

Initially, I wasn't going to go to Newdow because it's almost impossible to get a seat to high-profile oral arguments without an engraved invitation, and besides I figured the court would be crawling with those pesky, wacky atheists and fundies, protestin' away for the cameras. As much as I value free speech, I'd rather not spend my time around any more of that than I already have to maneuver around on my normal way to work, thanks. So last Monday, I tried to get into the Hiibel arg, the "Show your papers!" case, instead. I figured that one would be less popular as most people don't know a Terry stop from a terry cloth and would be more likely to stand in line for the Pledge case or one of the many terrorism-related exec powers cases this term. Unfortunately, I miscalculated, as the Monday case just prior to Hiibel was one of those dern death penalty appeals that attract students and interest groups en masse, so the courtroom filled early and most folks hung around for the second argument. (I don't get that het up about most death penalty appeals, because I tend to agree with my appellate clinic prof that DP law is a creature unto itself and the arguments are crafted differently from other appellate issues. Plus I try not to mix my morals with my law like so many people, including some lawyers, do.) I ended up standing in 20-degree wind chill for two hours and still not getting a seat for Hiibel, not even a three-minute one.

So I figured, hell with it, let's go for broke and try for Newdow. I've been around that court enough to know that if it's any kind of a hot case and you don't have a reservation, you need to show up no later than 3 am the night before and sometimes earlier. Ergo, I arrived at the Court straight from work Tuesday nite at 11:30 pm and discovered I was already 42nd in line.

As this is getting lengthy and I'm exhausted from "sleeping" on a District sidewalk last night, I'll continue my adventures tomorrow in part II. Tune in tomorrow, groupies!
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