Inside the Supreme Court

I spent well over three hours in the Supreme Court on Monday morning, a good chunk of it waiting for the Justices to start arguments on the Obama health law, which meant a lot of down time and some silly moments.

Here’s my view from the inside – it’s meant to funny, because any time that you are wedged into seats which are tighter than a middle seat on an airplane, you need to find humor.

8:30 – As I walk over from the Capitol to the U.S. Supreme Court, I am struck by how small the crowd is outside. I mention that to one police officer who readily agrees and says, “This is nothing.”

I go through security and get to the Supreme Court press room, where I check in and get my peach colored ticket that will get me into the courtroom.

I then stand in line in the hallway along with several dozen other reporters like we are waiting for a Southwest Airlines flight, lined up by our seat numbers.

Just after 9:00 am, we are taken up one of the stairways to the courtroom, where we go through one final metal detector and then we sit down in our seats.

The press are seated on the left side of the courtroom; my area was sort of an anteroom behind four sets of large marble pillars.

The big shots in the press corps get the good seats in between the pillars or actually out in the courtroom itself – when you are out there, you really feel like you are part of the action – it’s a great seat.  They deserve those seats – I am just happy to be in the building.

In our area, the Supreme Court set out three long rows of chairs which were so close together that we were wedged elbow to elbow, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip.

If I tried to sit that close to my wife, she would move somewhere else.  I don’t know the guys who are on either side of me.  But our legs, thighs and shoulders know each other.

From my vantage point, I can see the seats of three justices in between two sets of marble pillars – I’m not complaining – it is better than being on the outside looking in.

Just after 9 am, I can see some of the state Attorneys General who are in town for the arguments, like Mike DeWine, a former Congressman and Senator from Ohio.

There were also a few lawmakers in the crowd as well, like Rep. Tom Price (R-GA).

At 9:18am, I began scribbling in my notebook an almost stream of consciousness review as we waited for the Supreme Court to come into session.  Here are the highlights:

9:18 – some reporters discussing how they stood in line for Star Wars movies when they were kids; “it was fun to see the freaks,” said one.

9:19 – while I’m scrunched in my seat, it’s tight straight ahead of me as well in the little alcove between the marble pillars where the chairs are wedged in 3 x 3.

9:21 – the first sketch artist arrives with his tackle box full of colors; the next one seems to come in with only pens and paper

9:24 – Lyle Denniston arrives, the dean Emeritus of the Supreme Court press corps; he now works for He’s in the alcove right in front of me WEDGED in with eight others. And I mean WEDGED in.

9:26 – TV network people now arriving; they need a crowbar to get them in to their seats.

9:27 – late arriving female reporter squeezes her way down our row to her seat; “my butt’s too big for this chair,” she says.  We try not to say anything.

9:30 – Pete Williams of NBC arrives, shaking hands with other reporters like he’s a politician, followed by Nina Totenberg of NPR and Mark Sherman of AP

9:31 – Jared Halpern of Fox Radio is followed in by Steven Portnoy of ABC Radio; “I can’t see anything,” Portnoy says, as the big drapes on the marble pillars are right in front of him

9:32 – “My butt’s a little bigger than yours,” says the woman in my row again. “I’ve been told never to comment on a woman’s butt,” the male reporter next to her says dryly.

9:33 – I’m going to need a Zen-like demeanor because there is no way my deodorant will hold out today. I will wear a cotton suit on Tuesday.

9:35 – press seats almost filled; court employee asks for quiet and a hush comes over the room

9:36 – one last guy arrives in our row with a bad sports coat and what look like jeans; not exactly Supreme Court attire

9:40 – unnamed colleague in front of me lets me copy the names of the people arguing the cases; might have thought about getting that info before I arrived today

9:41 – the heat is on in the registers behind me and I’m sweating to death

9:42 – if I were just two seats to the left, I would have the perfect view of the dais; instead a woman from German radio who used to be an intern in my DC bureau has that seat

9:43 – one reporter has attached a list of the justices and where they are sitting to the golden rope that holds the large drapes over the marble pillars – a Supreme Court Cheat Sheet

9:44 – we are stacked in here like firewood

9:45 – “Radio Row” is off to my left with Barry Bagnato of CBS arriving

9:47 – many of my colleagues are still busily reading previews of the Obama health law cases and underlining passages like they are studying for a final exam

9:48 – unfortunately I can’t see any of the general public in the courtroom

9:49 – I always wonder, what are the Justices doing in the back before they come into the courtroom? Are they getting fired up for the big game like a football team in the locker room? Do they have Ipods on with loud rock music? Or are they playing Angry Birds?

9:50 – Imaginary IM chat of all the justices
CJR: can’t wait to nail the SG today 🙂
Breyer: Bring it on Chiefy
Scalia: BOOYAH

9:52 – I sense the room is getting anxious; clock moving very slowly.

9:53 – the press corps is overwhelmingly white and male, as is the audience.

9:54 – maybe we need a NASA announcement of “T-minus 6 minutes and counting”

9:55 – the five minute warning buzzer goes off.

9:56 – “I’ve got a great view of Jeffrey Toobin’s hair,” says one reporter.

9:57 – “Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning and welcome to the Supreme Court of the United States,” says a court employee, warning everyone to remain seated and silent

9:58 – I feel like we need the organ at a hockey game, getting the crowd clapping while waiting for the faceoff; (Scalia digs it out of the corner, cross ice to Alito, and he clears…Ginsburg…behind her own net, works it left side Breyer, he dumps it in the zone, Kagan taps it off the dasher…)

10:00 – By my watch, the Justices are late.

10:00:30 – “Oyez, oyez, oyez.”

When it ends around 11:40 am, I walk down the hall and emerge out the main door of the Supreme Court. There is a lovely blue sky, as we look down the huge marble stairs towards the demonstrators and crowd that’s gathered on the sidewalk, with the Capitol in the background.

I’m sorry I didn’t have my camera for that shot.

I can’t wait to go back and do it again on Tuesday.