I’m off to class now, but I hope to get my recap of the Schwarzenegger v. EMA argument up at a reasonable hour. Briefly, the California lawyer got mercilessly pummeled by Sotomayor, Scalia, Ginsburg, Kagan, and Kennedy, while Roberts stayed almost completely quiet for the first half-hour, only to be EMA’s prime antagonist during the second half-hour. Breyer joined Roberts in support of the CA law, while Alito, who had sharply questioned CA, more sharply questioned EMA. Alito also had some lighthearted, but jurisprudentially serious, quips towards Scalia on the limits of originalism for First Amendment cases concerning media never imaginable in 1791, let alone 1951.
Until then, here are some scenes from the sidewalk:
Orlando Bethel explains why hating gays is congruent with embracing civil rights.
Zion Bethel, 12, and his sister Kazia, 14, talk about sin, perfection, and getting thrown out of dance class.
Zoe Bethel, 15, contemplates a God of hate and love.
Students from Eastern University’s political affairs club share their thoughts on the Phelps’s.
Sam Garrett, a GW freshman, strips to his skivvies on the Supreme Court Sidewalk in counter-protest to the Westboro Baptist Church.
I opened my front door this dark morning to a chilly gust of autumn air spitting rain in my face. “Don’t make a habit of this, Justice Kagan,” I thought to myself.
Mother Nature has not seemed to take kindly to Elena Kagan’s milestones. On the day of her confirmation vote, a ferocious thunderstorm crashed through Capitol Hill in the time the Senate took to open and close its voting. Now, on the heels of Washington’s first glorious fall weekend, rainclouds insist on overseeing the entirety of Kagan’s debut week on the bench.
But Mother Nature is not the newest justice’s final arbiter. As the dreary day broke on One First Street this morning, scores of umbrellas shielded men and women waiting for their opportunity to give Justice Kagan a more hospitable welcome than the elements afforded.
Of all those who showed up to witness the new justice’s historic first day of court, however, one man stood out.
“You’ve got to meet Graham,” said Ryan Malphurs, who arrived shortly before 4am. A newly-minted Ph.D. in Communications, Malphurs has attended around 60 oral arguments since 2006, traveling from Texas each time, to conduct research for his dissertation on the justices’ power of persuasion at oral argument. Back again to continue his work as he expands his dissertation into a book, Malphurs introduces his friend.
Graham Blackman-Harris, 44, is the ultimate Court-watcher. Hailing from Jersey City, NJ, he made his first trip to the Court in 1990.
“I wanted to see Thurgood Marshall on the bench before he retired,” says Blackman-Harris of his first in-person encounter with the Court. “He looked like a giant.”
Since then, he’s made all but two First Mondays in October.
Forget doctoral students, forget stunt-bloggers, forget lawyers: Blackman-Harris truly embodies the civic passion so evident among the Court’s most ardent followers. A FedEx Operations Manager and self-professed C-SPAN junkie, he cites 1998’s Clinton v. City of New York as his favorite case because he had followed its issue—the constitutionality of the line-item veto—since the bill’s birth in the Senate.
“I’ve read the Constitution a bajillion times,” he says with a laugh. “I love it. Even the three-fifths part”—referring to the infamous clause writing slavery into the founding document—“because the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments corrected it.”
After his first trip to the Court, Blackman-Harris began his First Monday tradition in 1991 with the intention of seeing Justice Clarence Thomas’s debut. The Anita Hill allegations, however, served to delay the Senate’s confirmation of Thomas until mid-October. He has been luckier in later years, witnessing Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Chief Justice Roberts all make their first appearances.
Still, Justice Thomas occupies a large swath of Blackman-Harris’s highlight reel.
A year after Thomas joined the Court, the justice continued to face antagonism in the press. Blackman-Harris, who, like Thomas, grew up quite close to his grandfather, wrote the justice a letter telling him to “keep his chin up.”
Thomas wrote back with a personal thank you note. Since then, Blackman-Harris has written every other justice but never received anything more than a form letter in return.
“I don’t believe in a lot of the things Justice Thomas believes in,” says Blackman-Harris, “but I didn’t think it was fair” for the justice to get attacked for his conservative jurisprudence. “The Constitution, that sweet document, entitles [Thomas] to his beliefs.”
And Blackman-Harris can count himself among the few lucky members of the public to have seen with his own eyes one of the few moments that Justice Thomas has expressed his beliefs in the form of a question during oral argument.
“The whole courtroom just went quiet,” he remembers. That’s saying something for a place where library-silence is always maintained.
Indeed, he wishes that all Americans could witness moments like that. To back up his belief, he has written additional rounds of letters to the justices urging them to televise their proceedings.
But it should be apparent by now that for Blackman-Harris, C-SPAN’s “America and the Courts” is simply not enough. This year, he showed up on a crutch, hobbled by hip problems. “I was going to crawl if I had to,” he says.
His commitment to his visits for First Mondays and landmark arguments runs deeper than mere interest. For this man from Jersey, it’s personal. “This is my Court!” he exclaims as we enter the building.
Graham Blackman-Harris, in his deep devotion to the American idea, proves how inconsequential everyday setbacks like injury or inclement weather really are to the success of the American spirit. From the Founders scrapping the Articles of Confederation for the Constitution during a stiflingly hot Philadelphia summer to our first African-American President’s inauguration on a frostbitten Washington winter morning, we and our leaders push forward against the elements into each new chapter in our country’s history.
And judging by Justice Kagan’s performance today—poised, comfortable, and perfectly fluid in a bankruptcy case, no less—she and her audience need not regard a trifling turn in the weather as a bad omen for her decades of service to come.
For the final installment of F1@1F’s Supreme Court Side Walk series, meet General Lee Shelton. Hailing from Noname, Alaska (a town he said situated itself 875 miles northwest of Anchorage, but may not exist if Google Maps has anything to say about it), Shelton showed up at 1:30am on June 28 to spend half an hour telling us stories with factual moorings as dubious as his whereabouts.
Shelton had come to the Court via a flight from Alaska to Washington State, then a bus to Ft. Worth and onward to DC, where he had been wandering for hours by bus, train, and foot. His performance began humbly enough when he asked for directions to Union Station, where he hoped to catch a train to Virginia Beach. But then he put his bags down and started to talk.
Here’s some footage of the Shelton telling us about the grizzly bear that licked his face (pardon the dark exposure):
When Shelton finished his monologue–which included the heartwarming tale of Moose, the white moose that Noname adopted as its mascot–the eight of us gave him the heartiest applause we could muster.
Glowing from this reception, Shelton said that he may not have much money, but “I got a pocket full of smiles and I love giving them out.” He then picked up his bags and headed north up First Street towards Union Station.
UPDATE: Here’s the “Moose the Moose” story, courtesy of Daniel Rice:
Monday’s going to be a doozy. Last day of the term. Stevens’s last day ever. Decisions on Guns and God (Gays was decided yesterday), as well as a bit of man v. machine and what may be the financial industry’s own Citizens United.
But that’s not all!
About two hours after the Court lets out for its summer recess, the Senate starts its preseason tryouts with Elena Kagan.
I plan on being in the Courtroom and the hearing room. And my liveblogging the latter will hopefully be made more colorful by my sleepless Sunday night on the Supreme Court Side Walk.
That’s right: I will be conducting a my own final F1@1F campout for the term. I suspect it will be a fun one, as the Guns and God oral arguments had the earliest and most enthusiastic lines of the term – and Monday’s certainty of those decisions and the drastically warmer weather (plus the prospect of a stately nonagenarian screaming, “I’m Outta Here!” to a captive audience, tossing reams of paper into the air in a sign of aged defiance) point to a big turnout.
I’d love to see some F1@1F readers out there, too. If you’re planning on coming to the sidewalk, please do let me know.
Interview with my usurpers:
More footage from tonight and tomorrow morning later this week.
On Monday night, Dick Anthony Heller, the named plaintiff in the landmark Second Amendment case D.C. v. Heller, dropped by to spread good cheer to the line with cough drops and autographed leaflets. At one point, he even blessed my own chair with his presence!
Here he is giving an impromptu civics lesson on Women & Guns to Monta Vista High School students from Cupertino, CA:
Come the morning, Mr. Heller reappeared…at the front of the line.
One can’t blame Heller for expecting our goodwill: after all, McDonald was the sequel to the case that made him a gun rights hero. Nevertheless, no amount of autographs, cough drops, or civics lessons could substitute for the front of the line’s hard-won right to keep and bear single-digit placeholders. Moments later, he respectfully stood down.
More SCSW spots coming soon.
Adam Liptak of the NYT has scooped my McDonald vox populi column and I can’t thank him more for doing so.
WASHINGTON — Mike Sacks likes to be the first person in line for big Supreme Court arguments, and he was feeling pretty confident when he arrived at the court Monday morning around 8, 26 hours before the court would hear a big gun-control case.
To all the readers directed to F1@1F from Mr. Liptak’s story, please enjoy your stay and be sure to subscribe!
All hell broke loose around 11pm tonight: