Thursday, April 23, 2015

Alaska Commons Sending Reporter To The Supreme Court Next Week

John Arono tweeted this evening:

What the hell is Obergefell?  Or SCOTUS?

SCOTUS is the Supreme Court Of The United States.

Obergefell is short for  Obergefell v. Hodges.  It's the Ohio case challenging the state's ban on recognizing same-sex marriages performed outside of Ohio.  But there are actually four cases combined under Obergefell.  From SCOTUS blog:
The merits brief filed in the Kentucky case (Bourke v. Beshear) is the only one that discusses both questions: the validity of state bans on same-sex marriage, and the validity of state bans on the recognition of existing same-sex marriages.   The brief filed in the Michigan case (DeBoer v. Snyder) discusses only the marriage question, and each of the briefs filed in the Ohio (Obergefell v. Hodges) and Tennessee (Tanco v. Haslam) cases deals only with the recognition question.  (When a final decision is issued, it will have the Obergefell v. Hodges title, simply because that case was the first to reach the Justices.)
 Got that?  Two challenges:

1.  Can states ban same-sex marriages?
2.  Can states ban recognition of existing same-sex marriages?

This will be heard Tuesday (April 28) in the Supreme Court.

So what lies ahead for Mr. Roulet?  SCOTUS blog has a special page telling journalists what to expect at the Supreme Court Tuesday.

First, reporters are told they need to get press passes.  This, Mr. Roulet has succeeded in doing.  Next, they are told to get familiar with the case and this page for reporters has a section briefing them on how to do that.

Then comes the section on what actually happens at the Supreme Court.  I wish I had had something like that when I went to the Federal Court hearings in Anchorage back in 2007, but it was not near as competitive getting in and I was able to learn on-the-job.  Plus the rules changed from the first trial to the next.  (Reporters could bring cell phones past security and their computers into the court room after the first trial.)

Here's what Mr. Roulet has ahead of him:
"On the day of the oral argument, plan to arrive early. The Court’s Public Information Office will tell you when to check in, but give yourself plenty of time before that, because you will need to go through security to enter the Court building, and there may be lines to do so. Once you are through, head to the PIO for your pass, which will include a seat assignment, and information on using the wifi in the press room, which is right next door to the PIO. You can’t take any electronics into the Courtroom, but you can leave your laptop, phones, and other belongings in the press room. The press room will be crowded: most of the room is devoted to cubicles for the roughly two dozen reporters who cover the Court on a regular basis, so there will be lots of people milling around (and packed into) the remaining space.
The staff of the Public Information Office (who are, by the way, extremely helpful) will take reporters up to the Courtroom in groups, based on their seat assignments. If you are in one of the early groups, be prepared to sit and wait for a while. (On the bright side, that will give you plenty of time to observe, and perhaps participate in, a time-honored tradition for reporters covering really high-profile cases: standing up and craning your neck to see what celebrities – or what passes for celebrities in Washington – are in the public seats.)
Before you enter the Courtroom, you will have to go through a second security screening. This one involves both passing through a metal detector and a close visual examination of anything you want to bring in with you. Be warned: this inspection can include opening up smaller items like wallets or lipsticks, so it may be easier just to leave everything but your notepad and pens (and, if you are over forty, your reading glasses) in the press room.
At about five minutes before ten, one of the police officers in the Courtroom will make an announcement that includes instructions for the audience: Remain completely silent throughout the proceedings, notify an officer if you see anything suspicious, and in the event of an emergency do exactly what the officer tells you to do.
At ten o’clock, you will hear a buzzer, the Court’s marshal will call the Courtroom to order, and everyone (including you) will stand up as the Justices enter the Courtroom. The Chief Justice sits in the middle, and then the other Justices are arranged around him in order of seniority: Justice Antonin Scalia, the most senior Associate Justice, is on his right, while Justice Anthony Kennedy, the second-most-senior Associate Justice, is on his left. This continues through (in order of seniority) Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Stephen Breyer (who sits next to Justice Thomas and often has animated conversations with him), and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, until you get to Justice Elena Kagan, the Court’s junior Justice. She sits on the far right (the Chief Justice’s left) end of the bench."  [emphasis added]
 If you want to know what happens next, you can go to the SCOTUS blog "A reporter’s guide to covering the same-sex marriage cases at the Supreme Court."

The piece talks about what might happen next:

There could be
1.   summaries of opinions for earlier cases.
2.   swearings-in ceremonies for members of the Supreme Court bar.

The regular Supreme Court bar will run upstairs and take their assigned seats in the press section after hearing the opinions downstairs.  It also mentions that there are seats from which you can't see the justices and recommends people listen to tapes so they can recognize the voices.

Then there will be oral arguments which have been allotted two-and-a-half hours - 90 minutes longer than normal.   The first part (90 minutes) is for the marriage questions and the second part (60 minutes) is for the recognition question.  The plaintiffs (those challenging the ban) go first.  The SCOTUS blog goes into detail about each of the attorneys on both sides of each question. 

If you want to know details of the arguments themselves you can't go wrong by going to the SCOTUS blog page that indexes all their posts on this case.

Congratulations Brandon and Alaska Commons!  We're looking forward to hearing your first hand account. 

If you want to hear the proceedings yourself, here's what the Court posted on March 5:
 The Court will provide the audio recording and transcript of the oral argument in 14-556, Obergefell v. Hodges, and consolidated cases, on an expedited basis through the Court’s Website. The argument is scheduled to be heard on Tuesday, April 28 from 10 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.
           The Court will post the audio recording and unofficial transcript as soon as the digital files are available for uploading to the Website.  The audio recording and transcript should be available no later than 2 p.m. on April 28.
           Anyone interested in the proceedings will be able to access the recording and transcript directly through links on the homepage of the Court’s Website. The Court’s Website address is
 So, by 10am Alaska time, next Tuesday, you should be able to listen in.

What will they decide?  A SCOTUS blog commentary predicts, after a lengthy explanation in part 1 and part 2, the Court will overturn the bans on same-sex marriage.

I looked for a conservative opinion and checked the CATO Institute's post on this case.  While conservative, CATO also leans libertarian.  So I guess I shouldn't have been surprise to read this:
"Joining with noted originalist scholar (and Federalist Society co-founder) Steven Calabresi and Yale law professor William Eskridge—one of the leading experts on American legal history—we urge the Court to reverse the Sixth Circuit’s decision and finally fulfill the Constitution’s promise of equal protection under law to millions of gay Americans and their children. We argue that the lower court’s ruling was inconsistent with the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The fact that the provision’s ratifiers didn’t automatically or explicitly understand that it would eventually require states to recognize same-sex marriages is irrelevant; all that matters is what it meant in 1868 for a state to 'deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.'”
But we won't know until June (probably) what they actually decide.  

I have no idea how the court's public information office decides who gets passes.  I'm wondering though, whether the fact that Alaska is listed on one of the amicus briefs helped secure the pass.  While I decried the decision to put us on that brief, maybe this is a positive side-effect.  Or maybe it has nothing to do with it. 


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