CSL Students Hear Supreme Court Oral Arguments During Spring Break

This year the Supreme Court oral arguments for the California “Prop 8” case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, and the DOMA case, U.S. v. Windsor, coincided with Charlotte School of Law’s Spring Break.  Caleb Newman, a 2L, and Adria R. Crannell, a 3L, had the rare opportunity to attend the oral arguments in Washington, D.C.

Witnessing History Evolve, Maybe

By: Caleb Newman

Photo Credit: Caleb Newman

Photo Credit: Caleb Newman

Last week, I was one of ten fortunate students from our school to travel to the Supreme Court of the United States to observe oral arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the California Proposition 8 case, and United States v. Windsor, the DOMA case. The issues in these two cases have been discussed and belabored by the news media on television and the internet, pastors in the pulpit and during prayer sessions, students in classrooms and symposiums and forums, politicians on the campaign trail and during press conferences, and social activists on television shows and social media websites. But at the end of the day (or, rather more appropriately, at the end of the Court’s term), the Justices will have the final word.

There has been much speculation regarding the anticipated outcome of Prop 8 and DOMA. Will the Justices even reach the merits of Hollingsworth, instead kicking the case on Article III standing grounds? Will the Justices find that the petitioners have Article III standing and find that there is a fundamental right to same-sex marriage? Will the Justices employ a rational basis review, or some sort of heightened scrutiny? Has DOMA met its end?

Photo Credit: Caleb Newman

Photo Credit: Caleb Newman

Listening to the Justice’s questions and the points they were trying to make during oral arguments last week, it was clear how some Justices are likely to stand on some of the issues: Justice Kagan’s reading of the House Committee Report quoting “moral disapproval” of homosexuality; Justice Kennedy’s thoughts on the Prop case being improvidently granted; Justice Ginsburg’s dismissal of the theory that children “do best” with heterosexual parents; Justice Alito’s statement that same-sex marriage and civil unions are “newer than cell phones and the internet;” and Justice Scalia’s assertion that in order to find a law unconstitutional there must be some sort of “start date” for the unconstitutional law.

I am in no position to predict an outcome of these cases nor will I attempt to answer the questions above. However, standing outside of the Court on Tuesday and Wednesday made me realize that there are millions of Americans who have a deep, personal stake in the Court’s outcome. Seeing the hundreds of people waving signs, locking arms, engaging in dialogue, and marching down the street chanting and singing caused me to develop a deeper appreciation and respect for the Court.

Photo Credit: Caleb Newman

Photo Credit: Caleb Newman

I think our founding fathers would have been proud to see the peaceful yet powerful demonstrations on First Street last week. And until the end of June, when the Court is likely to announce its opinion in these two landmark cases, Americans will continue the debate that has raged on for decades. But as one commentator remarked, “The right to same-sex marriage will not be achieved by amicus briefs or court opinions, but rather by time that will pass by allowing Americans to see that this fundamental right is not destructive as some believe.”

Hoping to Witness History

By: Adria R. Crannell

Last Tuesday, I was lucky enough to gain entrance to the Supreme Court during oral arguments for Hollingsworth v. Perry, also known as “Prop 8.” I was spending my spring break in Washington, D.C. for an internship at the National Legal Aid and Defender’s Association and was encouraged to spend the morning at the Court. I heard that people were lined up as early as Saturday afternoon for Tuesday’s arguments, so I feared I would not be able to get in. Walking from the metro stop just before 8am, I could see the line already formed down the block. There was a group offering coffee, bagels, and signs, I grabbed a bagel and a bright yellow sign with three “stick-figure” couples; two men, two women, and one man, one woman. I made pleasant conversation with the folks in line around me, including a man from Utah who helped write one of the amicus briefs for the case, a mother from Michigan whose son just graduated from Cooley Law School, and a lesbian couple, one of whom was attending law school in Rhode Island. A separate line for Wednesday’s arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) had already formed.

Photo Credit: Adria Crannell

Photo Credit: Adria Crannell

As we speculated on the outcomes of the cases, a parade of ministers and congregants came through singing “This Little Light of Mine,” passing out PRIDE flags, and carrying signs encouraging the Court to rule in favor of gay marriage. With the exception of the Westboro Baptist Church, there was nary a dry eye in line. Although there were many clever and powerful signs, my favorite was the one that said “Mawage is what bwings us togeva today,” in a nod to the classic 80’s film, The Princess Bride.

Photo Credit: Adria Crannell

Photo Credit: Adria Crannell

As I was handed a little yellow ticket granting me three minutes of viewing time in the back of the Supreme Court, I was filled with excitement like a child on Christmas morning. I couldn’t believe I was one of the lucky ones. I was positively beaming at having the opportunity to be present, even for a short time, in the Court for what, I hope, turns out to be one of two landmark decisions. My mind was racing, trying to take everything in; I had turned my Facebook newsfeed into Twitter, posting near-constant updates, both so I could share one of lifetime’s greatest privileges with friends and family, and also so I wouldn’t forget anything. Around 10:45 a.m., midway into the day’s two-hour arguments, after going through security, twice, we were led to a small section in the back of the Court, behind red velvet curtains.

Due to the curtains, I was not able to see every Justice and wasn’t always sure who was speaking, but I was able to see Justice Scalia as he repeatedly hounded Theodore Olsen, the attorney challenging Prop 8, with the question of “when did it become unconstitutional to prohibit gay marriage?” The two bantered back and forth with Olsen attempting every maneuver the English language allowed to avoid putting a designation on when, ultimately stating he didn’t know. With that, my time was up and I was escorted out of the back room.

Photo Credit: Adria Crannell

Photo Credit: Adria Crannell

My thoughts still swirling, in awe that I was able to be present for an argument in front of the Supreme Court, to see some of the Justice’s whose words I have spent the last three years reading, to hear the questions and answers that will later become another decision read by future students, to take in as much as possible while trying to apply what we discussed in Constitutional Law just the week before, feeling my law school career boiled down to three minutes in which I hope to have witnessed history.

One Response to CSL Students Hear Supreme Court Oral Arguments During Spring Break

  1. dylanbennettraines says:

    The “start date” of the unconstitutional law happened in the 1930’s, when the state government first got involved in recognizing heterosexual marriage. If we want to repeal a descriminatory law, we would return to simply being a personal choice between two individuals. Take government out of it, and thus becomes a non-issue. We would also have equality.

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