Sunday, September 14, 2014

AMY AND I VISIT THE SUPREME COURT

On the day after our visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. (HERE) Amy and I  visited the Supreme Court.  We had read all the brochures and got up early to go stand in line by 8 a.m. The Court doesn't begin its proceedings for the year until October, so it was a little nippy.  

We were surprised at the number of people there, but we got in line and waited.  You know how that is, it becomes a good experience as you talk to those around you, wondering why you and they have this interest in the Court -- good time to talk about the weather, too.  We were all cold.  



Sometime after 9 a.m. the marshals began letting visitors into the Courthouse, and of course they were counting and stopped right before us.  One marshal took the large group of people into the building and another counted off the next twenty.  We were in that group and allowed to wait a little longer.  The others were told to leave, but a few stood around hoping.  



On the sides of the front stairway are two statues, by sculptor 
James Earle Fraser. 


The female figure on the left represents the statue Contemplation of Justice,
the male figure on the right, the Guardian or The Authority of Law. 



Over the pillars on the front of the building is inscribed the phrase Equal Justice Under Law.





The famous bronze doors are
rolled into the walls each 
morning when the building is opened.  Each door weighs six and a half tons. They were sculpted by John Donnelly, Jr. -- eight depictions of historic scenes in law.  You can read more about the doors HERE.












The history of these doors is amazing. 

As we came into the building we passed through the great hall, which is lined with busts of all the Chief Justices who have served, alternating niches and pedestals. 










Seating arrangements occupied our minds as we entered into the Court itself.  It was very crowded and I missed the moment of awe for the privilege of being where so many important decisions have been made by men and women Justices to secure our democracy -- a necessary, solemn task, because we are a nation of laws. 

When our group was allowed into the court room, we were told exactly where to sit, which meant on chairs that had been forced into and between the rows in the room.  I was assigned one of those bentwood chairs with a little round seat and no arms, and put next to one of the pews, so I did have a place to put one of my arms.  When I saw the chair, I envisioned monkey arms with my purse sliding out of my lap or wearing a rut in one of my shoulders.  But we were here at last, here where we both had wanted to come for a long time. Amy was someplace on the other side of the Court and I didn't see her again until the noon break.

The Justices come into the court at 10 a.m. and at the sound of the gavel, all who are present in the room rise and remain standing until the Justices are seated.  This ritual comes after the traditional chant.  


"The Honorable, the Chief Justice and the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States.  Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting.  God save the United States and this Honorable Court!'"

The case put before the justices concerned arguments about whether or not a police dog's identification of drugs in a stopped car was a legitimate search without a warrant.  I wish I had written down the case, the lawyers, or the dates, but I didn't.  We knew there was no possibility we could choose the case to be argued.  It isn't something you can plan unless you have unlimited time to be at the Court on a certain day and time, and even then, the schedule can change. 

For the first hour or so, it was difficult to concentrate on the arguments. Sitting in the same room with the Supreme Court Justices is enough to fill your heart.  I remember looking around and thinking how old and elegant everything was -- and also how comfortably shabby.  I thought about the years of use (built in 1935) and that I would love to refinish one of those long benches or pews.  They really needed it, and the draperies, heavy, deep red, probably velvet and probably the originals. There were carvings on the walls, the soffit, the ceiling, the four pillars of justice.  (I looked it up -- four pillars of criminal justice: law enforcement [police], courts, correctional system, and community.) 

The Justices sat in huge
black leather chairs that swivel and rock.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the only woman Justice at the time, was almost lost in hers. and one of the other Justices came in, sat down, and seemed to be sleeping within minutes.  I tried to catch him awake as I looked around, but I never saw his eyes open.  He was probably just thinking very deep thoughts.



Although we didn't see these, I couldn't picture this building without showing you one of the two bronze and marble staircases that extend to five floors. 

About an hour into the arguments,  I was listening, with my head propped on my hand, which was leaning  on the arm of the pew-like seat next to me. I think the woman sitting there, when she saw my little round chair and my slightly larger posterior, took pity on me and allowed me the use of that wide arm. (We were not allowed to talk, you understand.)  Decorum and protocol are the object of the day, but sitting there it is easy to understand why.  

I am embarrassed to say that the marshal soon stood in front of me and told me I needed to stay awake. Maybe he said 'sit up straight.' I was astonished, but not asleep.  I felt a little better when he spoke to another woman a few seats in front of me.  She was sitting in the pew and leaning on the arm, and probably embarrassed, too.  I let that part of it go because I thought the Marshal was probably new, or very attuned to the importance of the proceeding, and as usual I could foresee my penance, in the form of ridicule by my children.

Maybe he was supposed to do that.  I don't know, but at least Amy had something to tease me about for years, and she used it unmercifully. "Never thought my mother would be so disrespectful at the Supreme Court."  You know, stuff like that or worse. Don't worry, I got even when she said she would be claustrophobic if we went out on a cruise boat in Charleston, and then said.  "Oh, well, we should have gone.  I could always swim to shore."

No matter where we have gone on our four- or five-day trips, there was always some event that made it special for us to be together for just that short time, and usually something for us to laugh about.  We had planned another trip to the Capital in the spring of 2014, this time overnight on a train.  We made sure there was a dining car, and looked at pictures of our overnight pullman car.  

Later I looked up the man named Pullman who made his fortune making the wealthy comfortable on trains, and discovered he was somewhat of a tyrant.  If you want to read about railroad cars, sleeper cars and 'palace cars' with chandeliers, HERE's the place.

                                    ~~~~~~~~~ 


Even though they have come to an end, and I miss sitting with her and reminiscing, I'm grateful to have the memories of my vacations with Amy.  Special moments come to mind often and give me such pleasure.

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I can't give you our tour of the Supreme Court without commenting on three recent decisions made by the current court, two affecting voting rights and one about the mandate in the Affordable Care Act.  These are my words and since I'm not a lawyer, I welcome corrections to my single citizen's interpretations. 
  


Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission and McCutcheon v. FEC 
In a 5-4 decision in 2010, the Supreme Court Justices trampling on their own precedent (thanks to Al Franken for that line) said that corporations and labor unions can spend as much as they want to spend to convince voters that they should vote for or against a candidate; for the first time giving corporations and labor unions the status of persons. 

And, they say, campaign spending is a form of free speech. If you read the fourteenth amendment to the constitution, it's obvious that the status of a person (citizen) was all screwed up legally before this decision was handed down. It's hard to undo a wrong (slavery) when so many think living an evil is much more productive. 

We are not really a country, but affiliated states with a joint constitution and a central governing body made up of the three parts, executive, legislative, and judicial.  We are all citizens of the United States and can travel between them freely, even though we usually claim one state and its own constitution as our home, where we live, pay taxes, follow state and local laws as well as maintain our affiliation with the federal government and its constitution.  It is a complicated system, but we are accustomed to the structure. 

Our system of law involves federal laws and all the laws of the various states interpreted by jurisdiction, priorities, and the complex minds of lawyers as they attempt to represent the various governments and their clients using written law and precedent. This system, called federalism, is a system of shared power.  No place is it more difficult to understand than in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.  About the Equal Protection clause in this amendment, The Cornell University Law School posts  THIS

Alabama vs Holder, Attorney General of the U.S.
In 2013,  in an effort to keep certain states from having to present to the federal government, for review, any changes in their voting laws, Shelby County of Alabama sued the Attorney General of the United States (Eric Holder.)

Their contention was that the stipulation in the 1965 Voting Act was no longer needed.  We've come a long way, Baby.  That 'insidious and pervasive evil' called Jim Crow, which had been perpetuated in certain parts of our country through 'unremitting and ingenious defiance of the constitution' is over.  They weren't any longer trying to keep black citizens from voting. The Supreme Court in its wisdom bought it, and decided 5-4 that since discrimination no longer existed in those states, this part of the law (Section 4) was no longer needed and it was struck down.  

Certain states couldn't wait to pull out the bills they had ready to submit to their lawmakers: bills to prevent voter fraud, which was mainly non-existent.  These new laws demanded picture identification -- which older voters frequently don't have --changed registration dates and requirements, eliminated or shortened pre-election day voting, changed absentee voting deadlines, etc. --  they might as well have dug out the old laws requiring poll taxes. It will be up to Congress to right the wrongs

National Federation of Independent Business v Sibelius 
In this case, in 2012, the Supreme Court upheld 5-4 the constitutionality of the 'Affordable Care Act's individual mandate as an exercise of Congress's taxing power,' but they also ruled that states were not required to participate in the ACA's medicaid expansion.  The decisions saved the ACA because of the importance of the mandate in the execution of the law, but the other part of the ruling meant that states whose administrations opposed the ACA were free to refuse the medicaid expansion.  Refusal by eight states left millions of Americans without medical coverage.
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I wish now that I had pictures of our trips, but Amy and I were both more into doing and less into photography.  I only have memories, and cameras don't record those.