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Supreme Court visit

posted Jan 13, 2011, 6:14 AM by Christine Merrill   [ updated Jan 14, 2011, 8:19 AM ]
Yesterday, I went to see the US Supreme Court in action!  They usually do two cases per day, at 10:00 and 11:00.  Yes, the serious cases of the country are decided by a total of one hour of argumentation.  My lovely sister-in-law, Christine, watched the kids so I could go up.  I'd picked my day to watch by carefully trying to balance a day when I didn't have anything scheduled and when the case looked interesting, but not so interesting that there would be a lot of people trying to get in to see it.  I didn't do such a good job on the latter, it was a little more popular than I thought. This resulted in waiting in the cold for an hour and a half (and I'd forgotten my hat.  Wah!) wondering if we were going to get in.  I say, "we" because I began conversing with the people around me, and we were rather a chummy group by the end.  All of us were semi-locals there as tourists for the day.  From them I learned that they made a musical of Spider Man (seriously!?!) and that in Austria, they have extra planes from ski-resort towns to Holland during ski season with extra leg room to accommodate all the Dutch tourists who go home with knee injuries.  Seriously.  I guess the Dutch like to drink, and it's not a great mix with skiing...

Admittedly, waiting hopefully in line is half the fun, even if it's not to get into the midnight showing of the new Star Wars movie...and we were excited when we got in for the 11:00 case!  By the time we went through 2 metal detectors and checked-in everything we owned except our bottom layer of clothing and a paper and pen (yes, seriously) we had missed the start of the case.  I took lots of notes, but I'll refer you to this report on the case to get the gist of it.  My first observation was to note that Justice Roberts was leaning forward with his head resting on his hand, looking a little beat...Ruth Bader Ginsburg looks tiny and ancient in the huge chairs they have to sit in.  Justice Alito was sitting back rocking in his chair.  After a bit, one couldn't help but notice that Justice Thomas appeared to be asleep...but, every single Justice was engaged and asking questions at some point in the discussion.  I guess everyone shouldn't have to sit upright at attention all the time, right?  I really liked Justice Kagan, she asked really good questions.  I was surprised at how much the Justices talked and how little the lawyers talked - if the Justices didn't find what they were saying interesting, they had no trouble interrupting them with another question.  Anyway, it was very fun.  The only problem is that it made me want to go again...

The case was about when exactly the police can go into a house without a warrant - currently, a warrant is needed to enter unless there are exigent circumstances.  But, say, the police created the exigent circumstances themselves - do they still count?  Can the police go around knocking on doors waiting to hear people panicking and flushing evidence, then enter without a warrant?  It seemed to me that the Justices weren't anxious to bind the hands of police officers further, but were also anxious to protect homes as a place where people can feel safe from random police barging.  That is, after all, the gist of the 4th amendment... So, I'm interested to see what they decide.  The only vibe I seemed to be getting from them was that it's a really complex issue with no clear answer.  But I feel assured that the interpretation of the Constitution in in the hands of remarkably able, intelligent and good people.  That's one of the best side-effects I've enjoyed when I've gone to watch our system at work - I always come away feeling like people aren't perfect, but they're good and they're acting honestly and with good faith. 
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