First One(s) at One First

Only in hindsight am I beginning to realize the absolute craziness of the past two days I partook in, so I'm hopping on the blogging bandwagon and thought I'd fill you all in. It began in a little class called Constitutional Law. For our class project our professor thought she'd try something new and have a role play/simulation of a case that was to be brought before the U.S. Supreme Court in April. The case was Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. Although for the last month or so, my head has been swimming with the details of the case, I'll do my best to give you a brief synopsis.

At Hastings College of Law at the University of California in San Fransisco, there is a non-discrimination policy in place that says that all registered student groups must abide by an "All-Comers Policy." This means that campus groups can't discriminate against anyone who wants to join their club on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Sounds simple enough, right? Except that the Hastings' chapter of the national organization, Christian Legal Society states in their bylaws that members that don't abide by their Statement of Faith are not eligible to become voting members, lead Bible studies, etc. As part of this, CLS has said this includes students who engage in extramarital sexual activity (including homosexual conduct). In response, Hastings has denied the group club recognition status, access to meeting places on campus and funding, among other things, stating that CLS is in violation of the college's non-discrimination policy on the basis that it discriminates against LGBT students. Thus, CLS sued saying that Hastings is violating the group's first amendment rights of expressive association and free speech and that the group is not discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, but those students whose beliefs are not aligned with the group at large (i.e. sexual conduct).

Long story short- the case is incredibly interesting and when decided will have a huge impact on places of public education across the country. To end our simulation, we came up with the plan to drive the two and a half hour drive down to Washington D.C. to wait it out in front of the U.S. Supreme Court for a coveted ticket in to hear the case be argued.

We departed some time between 8:30-9:00 AM on Sunday to arrive at the Court around noon. A court police officer showed us where to settle for our 22+ hour wait and our group of 10 or so was delighted to find we were the first to arrive. We promptly settled in with our lawn chairs, sleeping bags and loads of homemade goodies. A large group of students left shortly thereafter to explore Union Station and the Capitol building and I attempted (and failed) to get some reading done for a presentation I had to do on Tuesday in my Latin American Politics class. The students returned to our stake-out a little after 1:00 PM and not long after, my friend who lives in D.C. showed up for a long overdue reunion. The last time I saw him was while he came home with Frankie and a few others from his platoon while on leave for Thanksgiving my freshman year. It was the first time we met and we've continued to keep in touch over the past four-ish years whether he was stateside or in Afghanistan. He took me out for lunch at a local pub and we had a great time discussing my two favorite things: politics and music. Who knew that there was someone else in this world that shared my belief that The Beatles are overrated?!

He walked me back to my group and we spent another hour or so catching up before he politely excused himself so I could once again attempt and fail to get any work done. The rest of my time with the group was spent playing rounds of Taboo and Mafia with my classmates and partaking in some excellent bonding time. As the night began to set in I realized my extra pair of socks, sweatpants and winter coat may not be enough to shield me from the below 40 degree weather we were about to experience. Sometime around midnight a couple Georgetown students who were members of their school's chapter of CLS and behind us in line divulged that they were headed to their dorm building to use the bathroom and invited anyone in our group to accompany them. My fellow classmate Tim, and I decided to accept their invitation and I wound up spending the 20-30 round-trip walk discussing the case with a third year Georgetown student named Clifton. He was incredibly knowledgeable and I almost felt bad for him as I peppered him with questions concerning his position and hypotheticals. Upon our departure I was on the fence but leaning more toward Hastings and by the time he was done with me I was much more open to and supportive of CLS' stance.

The majority of my fellow students retired to their sleeping bags soon after I returned while I contemplated what I would do for the next several hours since I already had the unfortunate premonition that I would not be sleeping that night due to the cold. Around 1:20 AM, what we thought was an unpredictable rain storm began to come down on us and it took about a minute while we rushed around gathering our things, for us to realize that there's a reason the Court's landscaping looks so perfectly groomed- sprinklers. Settling down on a new patch of grass it wasn't yet 20 minutes later when the sprinklers on the opposite side of the sidewalk went off, making us doubly wet and chilly. After the not-so-happy campers I was with settled in for a third time, I did my best to combat the bone-chilling night by a second, extended trip to Union Station to soak up the heat, multiple laps around the Supreme Court and a 5:00 am trip to "Pete's Diner" with another student to scarf down some hot, greasy diner food.

Around 6:00 AM, we had packed up all our "camp supplies" in time for another Poli Sci professor to swing by and pick them up. It was a mad dash to get all our things in his sedan in under a minute since the street was a No Parking zone, subject to a $250 fine. At 7:00 AM, the Court officer commanded us to form a single file line up the steps of the plaza where we would remain in the blistering cold for another two-ish hours while we awaited our entry into the Court. Following security, and the storing away of our belongings in the public lockers we made our way to the General Admission line to hear the oral arguments for the case we had so long been preparing for. As this has continued on for long enough already (and truthfully, the exhaustion from my all-nighter has caused me to forget most of what we heard), two of the fun surprises for me were the opportunity to chat with the Georgetown student from the night before as we were seated next to each other and the Principal Deputy Solicitor General under President Obama, Neal Katyal who was in the starring role of a book entitled "The Challenge" concerning the Supreme Court case Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that was required reading for our class, was one of the attorneys for the case that was heard after the CLS case.

All-in-all, the experience made for a great story and to be inside the Supreme Court and witnessing the discussion between nine of our nation's most powerful and prestigious political actors left me completely awestruck. I haven't yet decided if I'd be willing to do it again, but for a one-time experience it was definitely worth it! Oh, and before I retire let me just say- I'd encourage you all to ask me questions about the case, since I am by now, an expert.

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