Advice for camping out overnight for oral argument at the Supreme Court?
March 6, 2013 4:07 PM   Subscribe

What should I know before I camp out at the Supreme Court to try to see the oral arguments in the marriage cases in late March? What should I pack? How is the line policed?

I'm planning to camp out with a couple of friends. None of us have done this before. We are very familiar with DC. I saw the previous questions (here and here) but am hoping for more recent and detailed info.

The specific things I'm wondering are:

- How far in advance do you think we have to get there? We're okay with seeing either the Tuesday or Wednesday oral arguments. Will there be separate lines for Tuesday and Wednesday's arguments, or will the people near the front of the line for Tuesday who don't get in be at the head of the line for Wednesday?

- What can we bring to stay as comfortable as possible while we're spending the night? I believe tents aren't allowed. Are camping chairs and tarps allowed? What else would you recommend?

- What if one of us has to leave the line for a couple of hours? Will that person lose her place? Or can the others save it for her?

- Any other helpful tips?

Thank you!
posted by zahava to Law & Government (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You may find the information and links in this previous AskMe helpful.

I'd especially recommend Mike Sacks's blog, First on First. He spent a lot of time trying to be first in line for various arguments at the Court and blogging about it.

Ten years ago, I slept outside of the Court to see the oral arguments in Lawrence v. Texas. I arrived at around 11 pm the night before argument and was one of the last three people admitted to see the full argument (memail for more details about that if you want). My sense is that in the past ten years the lines have gotten much much much longer. I would guess be that you'll need to be there at least 48 hours beforehand, possibly more. That is just a guess, though.
posted by willbaude at 4:27 PM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As a former hill staffer who often saw people camp out (and knew several people who did this) at least 2+ days before major oral arguments, I think it's an easy bet that the gay marriage arguments are going to be A Big Deal. It's gonna get crazy up there. I'd expect all rules previously made for these campouts to not apply. I wouldn't dream of leaving the line and arrive a few days early.
posted by timpanogos at 5:05 PM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

[And I'm sorry that I somehow missed your link to the previous questions. Two additional things:

-- I would definitely bring a sleeping bag. I don't know about tarps.

-- In the past, the procedure has been to take attendance in the line roughly once an hour, with anybody who isn't there losing their place in line. That gives you a chance for a quick break right after attendance is taken, but not long enough to leave "for a couple of hours." But the procedure for this case may well be special.]
posted by willbaude at 7:12 PM on March 6, 2013

Seconding First On First.
posted by intermod at 8:09 PM on March 6, 2013

Best answer: I proudly lay claim to the record for the longest SCOTUS camp-out -- four nights on the Supreme Court sidewalk last March for the oral arguments on the Affordable Care Act. My reward was being first in line for the arguments on the individual mandate. I was interviewed by all the major media (NYT, WaPo, NPR, Fox, ABC, etc) because of my family's health care story. So if you care about the cause, this is a great opportunity for earned media (and I do mean "earned"). I made friends, had a blast, and would do it again.

I have lots of tips!!!!

When to arrive?? The problem is that it is impossible to gauge when the line will start and how many people possess the fortitude to endure the conditions (freezing temps, rain, little sleep for days, etc..). I wanted to be certain that I would get in, so I arrived Friday mid-day for the arguments beginning Monday. There were already four people in line. It grew from there, but as it turned out, lots of people got in by showing up really early on the argument days. Most were line-standers plucked from DC homeless shelters being paid less than $5/hour to wait in line. Almost all were really nice, except a guy named Oliver who is a supervisor for one of the line-standing companies. Stay away from him - he's a nasty creep.

Can you leave the line? Yes, you can leave for brief periods of say an hour or so. Make friends with those around you so that you can take turns.

What gear should I bring? The temp dropped to 32 last March so bring lots of warm clothes (layers are good - gloves, good hat, scarf) and a quality sleeping bag with pad. I nearly froze to death in my cheap Target bag. No tents are allowed, but you can a camp-chair (I had one with a roof), and even a cot. Definitely bring rain gear --umbrella, raincoat, tarp. It rained for two days, and then we got doused at 3 am by the lawn sprinklers. (Ask the court cops to turn them off).

What about the toilet/shower? This is where things get sketchy. As a woman and with the cops around, peeing on the grass was not an option. You can go at the Court when it's open during regular hours but not on weekends. The Capitol Hill Starbucks several blocks away was a real lifesaver for warm joe, phone-charging, bathroom. Union Station is open all night. A friend who lives nearby would be great. I was lucky to have made friends with some folks who had a brownstone a block away, and they let me use their shower and toilet. That said, I stayed pretty dehydrated to avoid catastrophe.

Food/beverage - there are lots of restaurants close-by, but bring snacks, energy bars, and drinks. Have a friend drop off care packages.

Is this safe? YES! The Supreme Court cops are everywhere. Make friends with them and they will help you when you need it. I got into a dust-up with Oliver who was not following the rules. The chief police dude kicked him out of the line.

Hope this helps. I'm happy to answer any other questions.

PS - Lawyers admitted to the Supreme Court bar have their own line, which is much shorter.
posted by purplebuslady at 1:07 PM on March 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

I missed a few of your questions -

There are not lines for different days. If you're in line, you have the option to go in when you get to the head of the line, or you can choose to sleep out another night for the next day's argument. That's what I did. There were three people ahead of me for Day 1. The people ahead of me went in, but I stayed in line as #1, spent the night and went in on Day 2.

The number of citizens allowed in each day varies depending on a variety of factors like the #s of press, attorneys, VIPs (senators, congressmen, wealthy donors - they know who they are). The chamber seats 400. They don't tell you how many are getting in until argument day at 7 am.
posted by purplebuslady at 1:55 PM on March 7, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you all! This helps a ton.
posted by zahava at 4:52 PM on March 7, 2013

I don't know if you're still planning on doing this or if so, when, but Pete Williams reports on Twitter that the line started forming yesterday.
posted by willbaude at 9:04 AM on March 22, 2013

Thought of this thread when the surprise snow hit. Hope you'll give an update when you're able to!
posted by fontophilic at 8:38 AM on March 26, 2013

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