Despite living in DC for almost three years now and despite being camped out in front of it for four days, I had never been inside the Supreme Court building before. When I was a press intern for Representative Nancy Pelosi, I walked into the Capitol building every day and saw the House of Representatives and Senate floor. My Uncle, who at one point worked for the GAO, got us White House tour tickets to both the east and west wing. And after years of having friends and family visit me out in D.C., I had been to all the museums and monuments.
But nothing could compare to my experience at the Supreme Court. When they finally let us in, the sun had come up over the court and it was shining in the light. As we clutched onto our appropriately colored red tickets and walked up the steps of the court the crowd of people outside, began to cheer.
It felt like the scene from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” where the lucky ticket holders finally meet Wonka and get to walk into the factory. Jeff, Jessica, Darien and I were the lucky kids with the golden (err red) tickets, and the crowd of people had come to cheer us on.
Once inside the building, we had to go through a basic metal detector. It was only 8am, and the court officers told us we had to be back in thirty minutes, when another line would form to take us upstairs and inside the courtroom. We used this time to take pictures and wander around the first floor, which is set up like a museum. I took plenty of photos of the interior and of the portraits of former Supreme Court justices.
As the minutes went by, more and more lawyers and members from the public line outside came into the lobby. I saw so many familiar faces, such as the team of lawyers from San Francisco who had argued the challenge to Prop 8, before the state Supreme Court. Everyone I saw seemed to have had a long history of fighting for gay rights, and all seemed to be very nervous about what was about to happen.
We began to line up at the base of the stairs that led up to the courtroom. Around 8:45 we began to file up. I took one last picture before an officer stopped us at the top. We were told the very strict rules that we were expected to follow. “No photos allowed past this point. There must be absolute silence inside the courtroom after the justices enter. The only items you will be allowed to take inside are a pen and piece of paper. Everything else must be left at coat check or be put into the very small lockers, which only take quarters.” Luckily, I had been told about needing quarters for the lockers had gotten about five dollars’ worth, just to be safe.
From there, we were allowed into the main hall. Throughout the main hall are very tall columns. Looking up at the ceiling you see vibrant blue and red paneling, but the rest looks like white marble. On one side of the hall was the line for the courtroom and on the other side was the locker and coat check room. We made a mad dash for the locker room, where Jeff was first in line at the coat check and I quickly placed my computer bag in the locker. I dashed back around all the people in the line for the coat check and made my way to be one of the first in line at the second metal detector we were required to go through before entering the court. Jeff and Jessica quickly caught up with me, but Darien’s was held up by her bag which was two big for the lockers and she was held up in the line for the coat check. As we passed through the metal detector, we reached a gigantic wooden door that was guarded by what looked like two court interns. Jeff, Jessica and I were shuffled through the doors and led into the courtroom. I had always heard that it was a rather small room so I was surprised how large it seemed to me. Red velvet curtains separate the three minute seating in the back of the room from the seating for the entire arguments up front. Several court ushers were telling us person where to sit but we rushed passed them and found seats in the third row, which was completely empty at that time.
After only a few seconds of sitting down, the court ushers asked to see our tickets numbers. “Oh, you must come up here. You all have been waiting for a very long time.” The three of us were seated in the second row directly in the middle of the high profile plaintiff team from AFER. This was somewhat strange since directly in front of me was Dustin Lance Black, the Academy Award winning screenwriter, and directly behind me were Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, the male couple that were the plaintiffs in the case. Rob Reiner, the Hollywood producer, was amongst the AFER team.
After about 10 minutes, Darien finally came in after getting her bag checked, but by then all the seats in the center of the courtroom had been taken and she was placed behind a tall column and was forced to have an obstructed view for the whole argument. At this point, it was only 9:30 and we had another half hour before the justices were expected to come in and the arguments were to begin. I looked around the room and was drawn to the ceiling, which was lit up and reminded me of the sun. Marble columns that resembled the grand hall outside were on either side of the courtroom. If you walked through them would eventually hit a windows that had the shades drawn.
More and more of the D.C. elite, entered the court. Evan Wolfson from Freedom to Marry, sat in the Supreme Court Bar seating. Valerie Jarrett, White House council to the Obama administration, was there. Gloria Alred was milling about the aisles saying hi to colleagues. Jeffrey Toobin, the CNN court analyst sat at a sideways desk taking notes. I had to look over all the gay and lesbian lawyers to see the pro Prop 8 team of Charles Cooper and the few lawyers he had on his side. Kamala Harris, the California Attorney general, also sat in the bar section seating. Ted Olson and David Boies sat at the anti Prop 8 side of the front of the court. Ted Olson came over to where we were sitting and greeted all of the members of the AFER team. They all had been working on this case for several years and you could tell there was a great deal of trust and affection between them.
Only a few minutes before 10am, several young clerks put briefs from the case in front of all the Justices chairs. A young Capitol police woman officer comes forward and reminds all of us to give ‘absolute attention and absolute silence.” Then at 10:01 a hush falls over the courtroom and the nine justices enter. The oral arguments begin.