Supreme Court Line Length?
November 8, 2006 4:26 PM   Subscribe

How long should I expect to wait in line to see the Supreme Court in session?

The visitor's guide [pdf] doesn't give much guidance on how early one might need to get there. How early should I plan on getting in the "entire session" line (assuming it's not an extremely contreversial case)?
posted by 0xFCAF to Law & Government (7 answers total)
Go early, very early. Law firms hire line standers so that the big shots can go sit in on sessions (though they aren't supposed to, but what are you going to do?). It's cold now so wrap up. If the line hasn't started to form up, it's a nice corner to people watch. You will see all your favorite Congress-critters walk by heading to work, especially if you briefly stroll up to the corner of the Senate Chamber. There should be street vendors to buy a coffee and a half smoke for breakfast.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:53 PM on November 8, 2006

Oh, and for "big cases" meaning contraversial or well known, obviously, the earlier the better. I'm talking 6:00, 6:30. If it's an Abortion decision, forget it, the Catholic schools will bus kids in to camp out.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:02 PM on November 8, 2006

If the case in not especially notable or controversial (obscure tax cases or the like) then 5:30 to 6:30am should be OK. If the case is at all interesting (as in it's being mentioned on CNN), expect to camp out overnight.

For things like the abortion or first amendment cases, forget about it. Not only would you need to be in line for something like 24 hours - the number of spaces for the public is drastically reduced because of the number of insiders that get access (members of Congress, high-powered lawyers, etc...)
posted by thewittyname at 6:14 PM on November 8, 2006

I'm a tax lawyer so I've attended some of those obscure tax cases. For those, you can go around 7-7:30. If you have a workers comp companion case you can go even later. But if it's your one shot to see a case argued, by all means get there as early as you can. Sometimes school groups get preferential seating so the available walk-up slots can be small.

You need to get a numbered card from the supreme court police officer (park police?) who stands in the front.
posted by probablysteve at 7:17 PM on November 8, 2006

I did this with a school group in college for a legal philosophy class and we showed up at 5:30 for a completely unspectacular case. We were first in line, but there are very few seats available, and they did have to turn people away, I think. So get there early. It was fun seeing the city begin its day and all the government types walk by. And the actual experience of watching the case was very, very interesting and worthwhile.
posted by bluejayk at 8:50 PM on November 8, 2006

Just to give you an impression of what it's like at that time of the morning, there are very few people out, except the early riser Congress-folk. One crisp, foggy morning Ted Kennedy hit me with a slobber covered tennis ball. Another time I sat and chatted with a recently ousted Max Cleland while he waited for his ride. So by all means, get up early, so what if you are first in line?
posted by Pollomacho at 11:16 PM on November 8, 2006

I've gotten in line for the less controversial cases early in the term as late as 7:30 - 8am. In general, it's easier to get into arguments in the October Session (already over now) because that's before a lot of law school classes arrange to go as a group. But if you really want to be guaranteed a seat at this point in the term, then yes, you'll have to show up earlier.

There are usually two arguments each day, so another tactic is to try to get into the second argument which starts at 11am. A lot of law students and tourists will leave right after the first argument and space will open up.

It's rare, but the Court might have an afternoon argument at 1pm. People usually don't know about those, so you might have better luck getting in. You'll have to check the argument calendars to find out . (It's somewhat unpredictable when the calendars are issued.)

Last thing -- in addition to sitting through the whole argument, there is a second option that allows you to rotate in for five minutes or so to get a glimpse of the proceedings. I think you're pretty much gauranteed to get in through this route, except on the very big cases (this term, that's probably the high school race cases.) Five minutes might well be enough for you, because unless you are very, very familiar with the legal issues in the case you might get bored sitting through an entire argument. And I say this as someone pretty familiar with the issues who sat through at least eight arguments last term...

Very last thing: If all you want to do is see an oral argument during a visit to DC, then consider going to the DC Circuit court of appeals. The DC Circuit is the most prestigious appeals court in the nation, second only to the Supreme Court, and you could have your pick of really interesting cases.
posted by footnote at 6:30 AM on November 9, 2006

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