Eldred vs. Ashcroft
October 11, 2002
Camping Out At Eldred - Notes Part Two - The People's Guide To Getting Tickets For The Supreme Court

I've written up some Notes on how the Ticket Line works at the Supreme Court based on what I've learned from my Eldred experience.

This batch seems to have taken the form of a "Guide to Obtaining Public Seats at the Supreme Court."

Soon I'll get around to writing up what I actually saw in there -- I'm still on the road and just wanted to make sure to get another batch of notes up today.

I will still be compiling these together into a comprehensive document when I'm done.


10/10/02 - 3:00 pm -- Notes on how the Ticket Line works at the Supreme Court

Note: The information in this guide was compiled from numerous knowledgeable sources. But the final conclusions I draw are my own (alas, detailed instructions for getting in aren't available anywhere else on the web that I could find). If you know anything below to be incorrect, please contact me so I can amend this post. Thanks!

Guide to Obtaining Public Seats at the Supreme Court

I have learned a lot about how tickets/guest lists work at the Supreme Court over these last few days. It is my hope that more of you will venture out to Washington DC to see the Supreme Court for yourselves. Hopefully, this guide will make it easier for you to plan your trip.

As confirmed by several of the Supreme Courts Federal Police Officers, every morning, between 3-5 am, people start lining up along the sidewalk beneath the steps of the Supreme Court (on the right side of the building if you're facing it).

Around 6-7 am, the line is moved to the "plaza" area, which is the stone plateau in-between the flights of stairs in the front.

Then, around 7-7:30 priority tickets are handled out to the members of the line.

Once you have a number you can leave and come back around 8:20, when they reform the line before the start letting people in around 9:15.

There are no substitutions. If you get caught selling or giving someone else your number, they'll take it away from you (them).

There are five sets of onlookers at a Supreme Court hearing:

1) People with actual tickets and/or on lists (guests of either side of a case)
2) Press
3) Members of the Supreme Court Bar
4) VIPs (People that can pop in at the last minute and bump members of the general public)
5) General Public

As you may have guessed, the top four categories take precedence over the fifth.

The VIP section was the group we hadn't counted on. We were expecting 60 seats to be available, and then some of the law students further down the line told us about the VIP section (important/connected people that can just sort of show up at a moment's notice if they feel like it, and get in).

Even if you have a priority ticket, there's no guarantee that you're getting in -- due to the fact that VIPs can bump you right up to the last second.

Even if they let you in to the courthouse, search you, and let you get into line right in front of the entrance, due to the VIP-ers, there's no guarantee that you will get in. In our case, 75 priority tickets were handed out, but only 50 people were let inside, and ultimately, only 25 of us actually got in.

There must have been more than 35 of them that day, because only 25 of us were eventually let in.

There are a ton of 25 cent lockers in side for jackets, cell phones, cameras, and anything you have with you. Said another way: you are not allowed to bring anything in with you. No purses. No coats. Nothing but the clothes on your body (and only a few layers of them).

Unfortunately for me, my wool blazer counted as a coat to Security, so I had to place it in a locker and was a bit chilly during the proceedings. It's pretty brisk in that stone building, so if you are sensitive to cold, like me, I'd plan on wearing a sweater in case your blazer gets classified as a "coat."

After giving you a minute or two to put your stuff away and go to the bathroom, the line reforms by the entrance in the ticketed order.

We stood there for half hour while all of the other groups of people were let in. We saw Lawrence Lessig go through the second security check, followed by none other than Ken Starr, who apparently set off the metal detectors and had to be personally checked with a hand held device before going in. (We all really enjoyed watching this happen.)

Next, the press was let in and we saw Declan, Steven Levy, and other familiar faces go in.

Then we waited while what seemed like a million military personnel going through (turns out they were a bunch of Supreme Court Bar prospects being sworn in that morning).

Finally, they said "Okay. You can go in."

The court room is awe-inspiring to say the least. The pews were already filled up and we were led to some chairs that had been placed in rows in the available space on either side of them.

We saw the press behind a set of wooden doors on the left side of the court room. There were some press people on the other side of the pillars too, right next to us, but I didn't notice them. (Steven Levy said he was so close he could have shot a spit ball at me.)

I was more concerned with how some of us had been stuck behind pillars, and if anything could be done. We all noticed that there seemed to be room for each of us to move our chairs to the left or right a little to see better, but doing so would definitely make too much noise. We all seemed to start moving our chairs and then realize the noise that ensued and stop dead in our tracks.

Then a miracle happened: everyone stood up for the Justices to walk in, causing just enough noise for us all to move our chairs accordingly!

More to come...

Posted by Lisa at October 11, 2002 12:42 PM | TrackBack
Me A to Z (A Work In Progress)