Inside the Supreme Court II

I received some critical emails last week after I talked on the radio about how excited I was to cover the three days of historic health care arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court.

You need to be “solemn” about it, one woman wrote, chiding me for showing News Exuberance.

But after Tuesday’s arguments on the individual mandate of the Obama health law, I knew how correct I was to look at this Supreme Court case with the eager anticipation of a kid waiting for presents on Christmas morning.

It has been a truly fascinating news story.

As I did after the first day of arguments, I wanted to give a little more of the inside story of what it’s like to report from the U.S. Supreme Court – so here we go.

8:45 am – I leave my broadcast booth in the Capitol for the walk to the Supreme Court. Again, there aren’t many demonstrators out front of the Court.

8:50 – I’m all checked in with my ticket for seat H-10 and standing in the hallways outside the press room.

8:53 – I make what was probably regarded as a creepy old guy mistake by telling the pretty young Supreme Court employee the story about the woman who said “my butt’s too big for this chair.”  As usual, I can’t keep my mouth shut.

8:54 – Jared Halpern of Fox News Radio stops by and admits that from his seat, “All I can see is a marble pillar. But I’m in the courtroom,” he says with a smile.

9:00 – We are now in line to go through the final checkpoint before getting into our seats in the courtroom, taking off our belts like we are going through TSA security at the airport.

9:01 – The final security check is on hold because the door is locked.

9:04 – I’m in my seat and I notice that the register underneath me is blowing out heat like there is no tomorrow. Just three hours to go.

9:06 – I decide to move my chair back into the alcove of the window, setting the back legs of my chair on the register and hoping it doesn’t buckle. It seems fine and gives me a little breathing room from my neighbors.

9:07 – I shake my head as I look at how scrunched together the people are in the row in front of me.

9:08 – I chuckle as I listen to other reporters talk about how many stories they had to file after the first day of arguments. I will translate for my readers that if you are not in radio news, the answer to how many stories you filed on the Supreme Court arguments is “not many.”

9:09 – I feel like the Heat Miser.  (“I’m Mr. Green Christmas, I’m Mr. Sun.”)

9:11 – On the bright side, shifting my chair back makes me feel like I’m in the exit row of a small plane.

9:13 – My neighbors are intrigued about how radio reporters do their job.

9:15 – The VIP’s are starting to file in and we quickly see a number of familiar faces grabbing prime seats in the courtroom.

9:18 – “Hey John,” says Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) with a big smile as he greets Rep. John Dingell (D-MI).

9:20 – I decide to stand up for awhile and scout out lawmakers in the courtroom with a number of other reporters. It was almost like a cocktail party game.

9:22 – “Who’s that sitting next to Sen. Max Baucus?”

9:30 – The big shot radio guys from ABC, CBS and Fox arrive to sit behind their pillar. I may be in the back row, but at least I can see some of the justices.

9:31 – I razz Jared Halpern of Fox Radio about his pillar view. “It’s beautiful,” he says.

9:32 – I decide that I’m going to stand as long as possible.

9:33 – One reporter thinks that former New York Mayor Ed Koch is in the audience. I don’t think so.

9:35 – We notice that the guy with the bad sports coat and jeans is missing from our row. That gives hope to the woman sitting down from me; she was the one who had butt size issues on Monday.

9:36 – Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell arrives and gets seated next to Rep. John Conyers (D-MI). I try to imagine what the devil they are talking about.

9:38 – Reporters are audibly daydreaming about stuff like coffee, snacks and bathroom breaks. We’re here for another two-plus hours.

9:40 – Lots more fun spotting lawmakers. Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA) is the unknown Republican in the front row.

9:42 – Again I wonder – what are the justices doing right now as the minutes tick by?  Are they watching the YouTube video of Tim Tebow’s first news conference as a New York Jet? Playing chess on line? Doing the New York Times crossword?

9:44 – “You see Waxman?” one reporter asks another.  “No,” responds the other. “Dingell?” “Yeah, he’s here.”

9:47 – I’m still resisting the urge to sit down.

9:48 – One of my veteran colleagues says she sees Ron Dellums in the audience. “Ron Dellums?” I ask with a quizzical look on my face. “Shut up, Jamie,” is the response amid some laughter, since Dellums left Congress many years ago.

9:50 – Apparently there are reporters who would reserve a seat to Tuesday’s arguments and not show up. A couple of them.

9:52 – A late arriving Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) is shaking hands like it’s a political reception.

9:53 – “Our butts will be able to fit today,” says the woman down the row from me, who gladly notes that the guy with the jeans isn’t here and so his seat will go unfilled. We shift our seats a few inches while moving his chair back into the window alcove.

9:54 – The reporter next to her still won’t comment about the size of the woman’s posterior and the Supreme Court chair. “I’ve been well trained,” he says.

9:55 – The five minute buzzer sounds. 

9:56 – There are definitely more people squeezed into the courtroom today.

9:57 – My back is literally on fire.  Good thing I wore my cotton suit.

9:59 – This should be like an NHL game where the P.A. announcer says, “One minute left in the period.”

10:00 – It is oh, so quiet.

10:00:15 – “Oyez, oyez, oyez.”

10:01 – The Solicitor General starts, then stops as his voice cracks.  He leans over to take a sip of water and seems to stammer.  Reporters are looking at each other wondering what is going on.  It’s the start of a less than fantastic day for him.

10:03 – You can almost feel the room move as Justice Anthony Kennedy asks, “Can you create commerce in order to regulate it?”

10:06 – The first five minutes of Day Two were better than all of Day One.

10:11 – Another Kennedy moment sets off a murmur in the press bullpen.  “Do you not have a heavy burden of justification to show authorization under the Constitution?”

10:17 – Another jolt as Kennedy asks if there are any limits on the Commerce Clause.

10:18 – The Chief Justice starts talking about broccoli.  After two days, I’m still a beat slow in recognizing the Chief’s voice; for some reason he sounds like Justice Alito to my ear at first.

10:33 – Justice Kennedy raps a sound bite double again.  You can see the other reporters furiously scribble each time he speaks.

10:48 – One of my colleagues leaves early to file a story. As she is squeezing by everyone, her ID somehow gets caught on the golden rope holding the drapes on one of the marble pillars. She has to backtrack to grab it before leaving and looks embarrassed.

11:00 – The Chief Justice gives everyone an unexpected break, as he lets everyone stretch their legs for a minute after the first half of the arguments.  Too bad there aren’t refreshments and a bathroom break available in the hallway.

11:36 – After two days, several of us have developed a system for indicating which Justice is speaking, as the woman from German radio two seats down lets us know if it is Alito or the Chief Justice.  That word is then passed down the row.  Meanwhile, the guys on either side of me just look at my notepad to see my block letter names of who is speaking.

11:59 – The Solicitor General gives a shout-out to the Massachusetts health care plan, eliciting some chuckles from political reporters in my section.

12:01 – For some reason, the Solicitor General leaves two minutes of his argument time on the table and wraps up his final rebuttal.  His finish draws eye-rolls in the press area.

12:02 – “See you tomorrow,” the Chief Justice says in a perky voice like he’s saying goodbye to his secretary at the end of the work day. The arguments are over for Tuesday.

12:03 – I rush out the front door and down the Supreme Court steps, trying to get back to the Capitol as fast as I can. Instead, I have to wait at the red light to cross the street for what seems like 10 minutes, as the police make clear no one will cross against the light.

12:07 – My radio program is on the air and I’m stuck in line at the Senate Carriage Entrance to the Capitol where someone has pulled 800 items out of his pockets and is still setting off the metal detector.

12:08 – I finally get through and an elevator door opens; I jump in, only to realize that there are five people going to the next floor.

12:09 – I scoot around the corner without trying to run too fast and dash up to my booth in the attic of the Senate. Time to go on the air and time to really start working for the rest of the day.

This is a pretty cool story.