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When Evil Was Called Good

Behind the Scenes at the Supreme Court

I was lucky enough to score one of the coveted press seats for the oral arguments over Obamacare, and the directions from the Court's press office directed me to arrive no later than 8:30 this morning, to pick up my press pass. In the interest of prudence, I arrived at 8, and there was no mistaking it: this morning, the Supreme Court was the place to be.


Dozens of protestors holding signs that read, "Protect My Healthcare, Protect the Law" marched in a circle on the sidewalk out front, shouting, "The ACA is good for me," and other such pro-Obamacare slogans. I noted a few activits decked out in full SEIU garb, too. The grassroots! Quite.

After making my way through the protestors relatively unscathed (RIP nylons...heh, get it?), I found the press entrance, checked in, and picked up my seat ticket. H25 -- the third-to-last seat in the entire press section. I likely wouldn't have any view to speak of, but who cares? I was there, and that's more than most can say.

In the press filing room, several dozen reporters milled around -- the most present for a hearing since Bush v. Gore, a court employee told me. For about half an hour, everyone stood chatting with each other, emailing editors back in the office, or tweeting about how they couldn't live tweet the proceedings (I'm guilty of that last one myself!). Then, we lined up in seat order and recieving instructions on what we could bring into the courtroom (and to hear everyone talk, you'd think separating a reporter from his phone/computer/iPad is a form of contitutionally-banned cruel and unusual punishment).


As we filed into the courtroom, I struck up a conversation with the two reporters on either side of me (whose names I regrettably missed). They found out it was my first time covering the Supreme Court -- heck, it's my first time doing any major original reporting -- and were kind enough to assuage my nerves with a few tips and some idle chat.

The Court warns that many press seats have "obstructed views," and that's putting it mildly. We weren't even technically inside the courtroom, but rather, sitting on the other side of some ornate, gilt wall, puntuated by columns. I found I had a view of Justice Thomas' seat through two columns, and if I leaned forward, I would be able to see Justice Breyer, too.

Of course, being unable to see the Justices presented my greatest challenge: identifying each speaker by voice alone. My cohorts were helpful in telling me how to differentiate -- "Alito is a slightly higher-pitched version of Scalia," "Breyer has a very professor-y voice, but he and Kennedy sound alike" -- and I turned out to be OK at telling them apart. I only mixed them up once, attributing a one-line joke to Justice Scalia that actually came from Justice Kennedy.


The Court Marshall required silence for the ten minutes leading up to the Justices' arrival; the scrape of some chairs and a gavel banging signalled their entrance. We stood, the Marshall declared the court in session, and then the Justices handed down two rulings before a quick, "Counsellor?" called forward the first lawyer.

For the next hour and a half, I took notes nonstop -- 7 single-spaced, handwritten pages in all. When Chief Justice Roberts announced that court would resume session tomorrow, we reporters all but ran down the stairs, racing to see who would file a story first. Tomorrow, it's back to it, and how: the individual mandate is on deck, and that's bound to be a battle...

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