Sunday, April 14, 2013

Buying a place in line to hear Supreme Court arguments

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy Dale Carpenter has the story, and the URL is more informative than the headline: 

"There are actually two lines to get into the chamber, which has very limited seating capacity.  One is for the general public, and in high-profile cases it’s quite long.  The other is for lawyers who become members of the Supreme Court bar.  Bar members enjoy a limited number of reserved seats at the front of the audience, right behind the lawyers for the parties in the case.  ...
I joined the Supreme Court bar ($200 one-time fee) in order to get into the marriage arguments. I knew the lines would be long, so I arrived Tuesday morning at about 3:15 a.m., thinking that would be good enough to get me in.  I was about 57th in line at that point for about 100 seats in the bar section.  In front of me were mostly paid line-standers who had been waiting in the 30-degree temperatures all night.  I talked with quite a few of them.  None were members of the bar.  Almost all were impoverished and black.  Many of them slept on the ground, in cold and wet conditions, for several nights.
As daylight approached, a lot of equality advocates arrived to take their premium places in line.  These “clients,” as the line-standers called them, paid about $50 an hour to line-standing-service middlemen organized as businesses (I don’t know what the actual line-standers earn per hour).  For the Prop 8 case,  it cost as much as $6,000 to get to the front of the line and guarantee a seat in the courtroom.  Neither the Supreme Court nor any law-enforcement authorities prohibit this practice.
I don’t categorically object to line-placement capitalism, especially for private functions like buying tickets to a rock concert.  It’s an economic exchange in which the highest bidders get what they want and others sell their services and earn money they wouldn’t otherwise get.  It does seem odd to hold what’s effectively a private-market auction for seats at a public hearing of the country’s highest court.  Many of the buyers who participated in this particular market, given what I know of their other political preferences, would be hard put to defend this system in a public forum. 
They started letting us into the Court at about 7:30 for the Prop 8 argument on Tuesday.  I got into the main room, third row from the front, not more than 50 feet from the Justices.  Getting there early — and being able to stand in a separate bar-members line – had paid off.
But what happened the next day for the DOMA argument was appalling.  I arrived at 2:15 a.m. when the temperature was a balmy 40 degrees and was headed down.  I was 46th in line, again with a group consisting almost entirely of paid line-standers in front of me.  There were very few bar members personally waiting in line at that time.  The Court had space for fewer bar members that day in order to make room for an extra table for counsel arguing the jurisdictional issues.  But even with more limited seating, #46 was still sure to get in.
As 7 a.m. approached and the lawyers arrived to take their pre-paid places in line, something else happened.  They started inviting their friends to join them at the front of the line, pushing back people who had waited all night to get in.  The lawyer-clients of several of the line-standers near me never arrived to relieve their assigned line-standers, no doubt because they cut in line further up than what they had paid for.  Pretty soon, I was #55 and then #65 and then I lost count. "

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Might be of your interest: