For What It's Worth:

Self-important political analysis from an American college student

Month: March, 2012

The Argument

When Solicitor General Donald Verrilli was just two or three sentences into his opening statement, Justice Antonin Scalia interrupted him with a question. Verrilli had already been stumbling through his opening, and the premature question threw him off even more.

It was a theme that would be repeated for an hour straight. When asked simple questions such as “Why aren’t those problems that the federal government can address directly?” and “Where is the limiting principle?”, he staggered and struggled to find the right words. On more than one occasion, Justices Sotomayor and Kagan stepped in to practically answer questions on Verrilli’s behalf. On two occasions, his answers prompted laughter from the justices and the crowd.

I was shocked by the pace of the argument.; the hour flew by. Justices are relentless, and attack every answer from every angle, often interrupting before answers are finished. Sometimes it felt like ping pong, as justices from opposite ends of the bench would repeatedly toss questions. On more than one occasion, one answer would go unfinished as another one was answered, and the first justice would eventually (and sarcastically) ask for their question to be answered.

Between the HHS argument and the argument on behalf of the states, I turned to the person next to me and shared my thoughts: “It seemed like Verrilli was stumbling a lot – but on substance he still seemed pretty solid.”

He nodded in agreement and added, “Yeah, he stumbled a lot… But wait ‘til you see Clement. The disparity between them will be huge.” He put two fingers in the air, far apart, to signal a large gap.

And when Paul Clement started arguing, it was clear that my bench buddy had been correct. His voice was louder than Varrilli’s; his tone more confident; his arguments clearer. He was interrupted significantly later in his opening than Verrilli was during his opening.

When interrupted, it was as though Clement knew exactly what he was going to be asked. On multiple occasions, he cited page numbers and paragraph numbers from the PPACA, and cited verbatim arguments from past opinions. Even when Justice Breyer made up a hypothetical in which nearly the entire nation had a contagious epidemic, Clement answered as easily as if Breyer had asked about the weather.

Half a dozen times it seemed as though Clement was backed into an inescapable corner during his argument. Each time, he was able to obliterate premises, attack arguments, and quote legal precedents in order to stick to his arguments. Each of his arguments seemed flawless, and he was able to double-down on them even in the face of unyielding questions.

The most interesting back-and-forth conversations were between Clement and Justice Kagan. Kagan was prepared to argue this case in front of the Supreme Court before she was selected to serve on the court herself, so she has a large depth of knowledge from which to draw questions. She attacked Clement’s arguments hard and made many of her own arguments, and Clement would counter each one with increasing intensity. It was entertaining to watch: Two of the greatest minds of their generation debating the Constitution. It was a political nerd’s dream.

Watching Paul Clement argue this case was like watching Pedro Martinez at the 1999 All-Star Game. The best that there is, on the most important stage, delivering his best performance. When he is eventually, inevitably a Supreme Court Justice, people will look back at this case and see it as his finest hour.

At the stroke of 12:00 noon, the gavel slammed shut a remarkable process. It didn’t sink in until a while later, but I still looked around the Courtroom in amazement at what the two days of camping had brought. For the price of a short walk, a few nights sleep in the sidewalk, and the help of some great friends, I was able to get the historic experience I was looking for. To see the most brilliant legal minds discuss the role of our federal government was something that I will not soon forget.

Camp Supreme: Mission Accomplished.

Special thanks to everyone for reading, encouraging, bringing food, and showing interest in my journey. That was most of the fun!

Advertisements

We made it!


Shortly after 7:30 this morning, The Marshall arrived at the sidewalk and went over the rules of procedure.

“We will be going through with tickets in a few minutes,” he said. “These are for today’s hearings only.” Moments later, he worked his way up the line with a stack of yellow tickets in his right hand. When he got to us, he asked, “Are you guys here for today?”

Stephan could barely contain himself. We collectively said yes and celebrated as we were handed tickets #33, #34, and #35. The gentlemen behind us, both legal experts from an influential conservative political organization, received the next two tickets, and we all let out a sigh of relief as we realized we would get into the Court after all.

I turned to the gentlemen behind us and said, “I feel like the kid from Willy Wonka with the Golden Ticket…”

“I disagree,” he said. “Those went out once a season. This is once a century, maybe.”

They corralled us in almost immediately – quickly that we didn’t even have time to change. We stood out from the steps, toward the gathering crowd. Pro-Life Activist Lila Rose was giving a speech against Obamacare, and a crowd of women was attending to shout her down. The crowd was growing overall, with more people opposing the bill than supporting it.

Once again, we were corralled – this time through metal detectors and into the cafeteria. Shortly after, we were able to change into our suits and lock our bags away.

The marble hallways, busts of former justices, and distinguished paintings surrounded us as we stepped in line up to the Supreme Court.

When we finally, stepped into the Supreme Court, I burst into a huge smile. After 33 hours, temperatures ranging 40 degrees either way, a wicked sunburn, a handful of new friendships, and a new faith in my Brothers and friends, I was finally into the Supreme Court. I was going to watch the greatest legal minds of our time discuss one of the most important pieces of legislation of our time.

I looked around and felt small. The ceiling was covered in intricate patterns, marble columns and giant red curtains lined the sides, and the wooden benches reminded me of a fancy church. Among my fellow debate-watchers were Kathleen Sebelius, Eric Holder, John Kerry, Mitch McConnell, and Steve Tribe. The beauty of the room, the magnitude of the case, and the prominence of my company was overwhelming.

We finally made it. God bless America.

The Placeholders

The Washington Post and other news outlets have published stories about firms who are hired to save seats outside of major events for people who are willing to dish out large sums of cash for a good seat but aren’t so willing to wait in line.

When most people heard this story, it sounded like a well-manufactured machine of professionals who were willing to brave cold temperatures and hard sidewalks to make some money. What we saw at the Supreme Court was a different story.

Many reporters and others that I talked to asked why homeless people were standing at the front of the line at The Supreme Court. “They don’t look like the crowd that would want to go inside,” they said. Indeed, reporters and passersby viewed those first 30 people in line with a look of confusion, if not condescension.

In some ways, it seemed like a good match. Rich people who were wanted a place in line and were willing to give cash were linked with people who needed cash and were willing to wait in line. In many ways, it seems like a perfect pairing, but for some reason I struggled to feel good about the transactions.

Some PACs and other groups used a different approach. Rather than use a professional placeholding group, they paid their interns extra money to save spots in line for some of the more influential members of their team.

Morning Proceedings, Santorum Sighting, and Media Frenzy

After returning to sleep after a few hours, I was awoken by a video cameraman who was taping me while I sleep. Welcome to the circus…

There was a surprisingly small crowd this morning. At about 7:30, the Marshalls began handing out tickets to today’s arguments. These arguments pertained to the urgency of the Court case – and whether or not it was too early to decide the fate of The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. While I was roughly 60th in line, they had only handed out 27 tickets by the time they reached me. With such a short line, it was evident that spaceholders will have the choice between Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday arguments. No longer desperate for seats, more than half of the crowd chose to wait another day. I joined them, and now sit between 30th and 35th in line.

Of the 30 or so people in front of me in line, almost all are placeholders for someone else. They say precious little about who is paying them or how much they are being paid, but are loud otherwise. They are all appear to be low income men and women, and are coordinated by a man in a Washington Nationals hat.

The group behind us, who are cut from an entirely different cloth from those in front of us, are holding places for Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. Tomorrow morning will be extremely interesting as we watch some of D.C’s elite take their place ahead of us in line.

There is a large media pesence here, with reporters from all around the world. Since the line is small and most of our fellow placeholders are not allowed to talk to the press, we have been interviewed by almost all of the reporters here. From NBC, to FoxBusiness, to CanadaTV, to The New York Times – we’ve seen it all. Those who know me will be surprised to know that a New York Times columnist has actually befriended us and has spent most of the day in our humble abode at 1st St. and East Capitol.

Throughout the morning, AFSCME members marched outside the Supreme Court, holding signs in support of Obamacare. There were hundreds of them, and only a small contingency of Tea Partiers. There was also a small group of Pro-Life activists who wrote “LIFE” on red duct tape, covered their mouths with the tape, and prayed silently amidst the chaos.

Shortly after 12:00 noon, Senator Rick Santorum arrived and held a Press Conference outside the Court. He did not use a microphone, so most of the media did not here what he said, but our New York Times friend said she heard him take multiple shots at Romney, claiming, “I am the only one who can repeal Obamacare.”

As he spoke, a large group of women chanted, “Healthcare is a right!” to which Tea Partiers responded “Where in the Constitution?”

The afternoon has been particularly quiet.  The weather is gorgeous and the crowd has calmed.

The weather is supposed to drop down to the mid-thirties tonight. I’m thankful for my fraternity brothers, who have brought us sleeping bags and plenty to keep warm.

Check out our “Media Hits” page to see coverage of Camp Supreme! We were on the front page of the Nashua Telegraph today!

The sprinklers are on…

Yikes. Image

What a way to wake up; a splash in the face!….

I’ve learned that most people in line are here for Tuesday’s arguments. Tomorrow morning, the Court will debate whether or not it is premature to decide the case, since no one has been forced to buy health insurance. Both sides are expected to agree that the time is right, so the debate will not be particularly exciting.

The concrete is surprisingly cozy. More updates once this shower ends and I rest up a  bit more.

I have arrived!

We left GWU at around 10:00 and strolled along The National Mall and up Capitol Hill to the steps of The Supreme Court. The court is very quiet and still, with a few police officers standing guard by the front steps. There is very little media here, other than the GW Hatchet and a few smalltime reporters.

There are rumors that Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Sarah Palin may be on hand tomorrow, but I haven’t seen anyone too influential thus far.

I am 55th in line, and that The Court holds about 75 to hear the arguments. This puts yours truly in a pretty good spot over-all. I fear that people may get aggressive tomorrow, or that placeholders may be holding spots for a crowd rather than just themselves, but my chances seem pretty good for Tuesday morning.

The crowd is a wide range of people. There are some Tea Party-looking older people, some people who frankly look pretty shabby, and some professional-looking people who are using their sports jackets as blankets. It’s difficult to tell people’s political leanings.

All’s quiet at The Supreme Court for now. I’m told to expect a circus in the morning.

To see more photos, check out the “Photos” page on this site.

Game On

The hour is at hand for me to trek up Constitution Ave, from GWU to The United States Supreme Court. There’s a special feeling in the air tonight – that kind of feeling you get before a World Series baseball game or before a major presentation. In a way, I guess I’m just like those crazy fans that sit outside Fenway Park and sleep in the street to get tickets. Fenway Park holds a few more people than the 75-person gallery of the Supreme Court, but we are all brothers in craziness.

 

The remark has been made that this is the most important Supreme Court case since Roe V. Wade. That statement is absolutely correct in my mind. While other cases have matched it in tangible, immediate importance of the decision, few cases carry the legal weight of this case. There are few Supreme Court cases throughout history that strike at the very core of our Constitution, and this is one of them.

 

The other two branches have done their part: The Congress passed the bill and the President signed it into law. Starting in about 13 hours, the nine unelected members of our judicial hierarchy will have the final say on The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. If they strike it down, they overrule the other two branches.

 

The gravity of this case is clear, and that’s why I expect roughly 100 people to be ahead of me in line when I get there. The media will be parked out front ready to report, and I expect a number of Pro-Life Christians to be praying on the steps. Who knows, with all the tents around there is probably an occupier or two in the crowd.

 

I’ve got my books, notebook, and laptop to keep me occupied for the immediate future. I’ve packed bread, apples, and water to keep my hydrated, and have some faithful Beta Theta Pi brothers prepared to relieve me once or twice tomorrow. I’ve got layers of clothing packed for when the temperature drops (34 degrees tomorrow night according to weather.com!), and I’ve got my sleeping gear.

 

If this is the first post you are reading, I’ll let you know that this blog is not a political science one. I’m not going to be arguing my case on here – I’ll let the experts do that in the courtroom. I am simply blogging about the experience of camping outside The Supreme Court and witnessing history.

 

If I have WiFi on 1st Street, expect constant updates throughout the day. If not, I’ll post timelined posts tomorrow evening around dinnertime.

The Logistics

Well, as I reach the final planning stages and finalize the logistics of this expedition, I face a number of sobering realities. Most of the people who originally planned on attending have backed out, so this may be a solo project. That makes the logistics much more difficult when you factor in bathroom breaks, showering, food, and the like.

            I’ll spare you all the details of the “lavatorial” plans. But as far as food goes, I may not be able to move from the spot for a good 24 hours. That means I can’t leave for a sandwich or a slice of pizza. Since I am traveling alone, bringing a cooler is just about out of the question. So, it looks like I’ll be going on a Biblical fast of bread and water for the next 40 hours or so.

            I will be traveling lightly: My comforter, a pillow, a folding chair, my laptop, a camera, and all of my reading for the rest of the semester. I’m doing a nice monument walk up to the Supreme Court at 8:00 P.M. tonight. Expecting a chilly night tonight, but a sunny and warm day tomorrow. Tuesday morning, one of my friends will come hold my spot in line while I put all of my stuff back in my dorm room and change into Court-appropriate clothes.

            I am not sure if I will have internet capability. If so, expect tweets, facebook updates, and continued blog posts. If there is no internet, I will write a number of updates with time labels and will upload all of them upon my return Tuesday. From the looks of CSPAN, there are about 30 people in line so far. I am hoping most of them will attend tomorrow’s hearing, freeing up spaces for me to fit in on Tuesday.

 

Game on. 

News Hit: The Concord Monitor

I was featured in The Concord Monitor’s “5 Questions” article.

The link is here

March 25, 2012

CHRISTOPHER CRAWFORD, 20, has spent plenty of time camping in the woods, but this weekend will be the first time he’s set up on pavement.

Crawford, a Nashua native studying political science at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., will camp out in front of the U.S. Supreme Court starting today. He and about five of his Beta Theta Pi fraternity brothers want to be in the room Tuesday morning when the justices hear oral arguments about the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, frequently referred to as “Obamacare.”

A registered Republican, Crawford is no stranger to politics. He and another Nashua college student started the New Hampshire Conservative Future PAC to support young, first-time conservative candidates for local and state office.

He said they’re not camping to make a political statement – it’s more like “Black Friday” at Best Buy, he said. He said he’ll document the experience online, and you can find him on Twitter at @chriscrawfordnh.

Why are you doing this? Being in D.C., we’re kind of blessed with the opportunity to witness history, and this is one of the most historic Supreme Court decisions ever.

What do you expect? I called the (U.S.) marshal’s office, and they said you’re allowed to wait in line for as long as you want, but it’s all up to the people in line whether you can have one person holding a spot for five or six people. We’re not expecting the other people in line to be very gracious.

How will you prepare? We’re going to bring a cooler, lunches, stuff to eat and drink, probably a lot of homework. This is probably a good opportunity to do a bunch of reading. . . . Tuesday morning the doors will open at 9 . . . (but) we’re going to have all this stuff with us and they don’t even allow you to bring phones or cameras into the Supreme Court. . . . One at a time, we’ll go home, bring all of our stuff with us, change into our nice clothes so we look presentable to go into the court.

What is your biggest logistical concern? One of our worries actually is we’ll show up Sunday to camp out there’ll already be hundreds of people.

Do you have a strong feeling about the way the court should rule? Particularly on the individual mandate, I think it’s unconstitutional, and it would be dangerous for the Supreme Court to decide that the government can force people to buy something. And that’s something I’m passionate about.”

The Idea

One of the great blessings of attending college in Washington, D.C. is the opportunity to routinely witness history. When Glenn Beck held his historic “Restoring Honor” Rally, George Washington University students were among the people in attendance. When John Stewart and Stephen Colbert staged their response, even more students flooded onto The Mall. When Osama bin Laden was killed last May, the first students who rallied at the White House were my GWU classmates. On any given day, hundreds of interns from GWU are hard at work in the U.S. Capitol and The White House.

This week, The United States Supreme Court will hear one of its most important cases since Roe v. Wade in 1973. The Court will be hearing the case for The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, the landmark healthcare legislation that has defined Barack Obama’s presidency. On Tuesday, the Court will hear specific arguments regarding the most controversial part of the healthcare law, the government mandate that requires all U.S. citizens to buy health insurance. The consequences of the Supreme Court’s decision will be Constitutional as well as political, and will define the role that government can play in the lives of individuals.

As ambitious GW students who are always looking to stand out, a handful of my fraternity brothers and I will be doing all that we can to get into The Supreme Court for the oral arguments on Tuesday. We intend to be in the Supreme Court for this historic debate, even if it means camping outside from tonight onward.

As I joked with a Concord Monitor reporter, we are not camping out in protest. We are not ‘occupying’ anything; We won’t be holding signs or shouting at passersby; Our bi-partisan band of Beta Theta Pi brothers are simply on a mission to hear one of the most important Supreme Court debates in recent times. Rather than bring signs and megaphones, we will be bringing light meals, snacks, drinks, and some of our homework for the coming week.

There’s no guarantee that we will make it in for the arguments. With only 50 public seats available, there may be a large crowd at The Court before we arrive. One advantage that we have is that the oral argument in which we are interested does not take place until Day Two, so we may be able to hear the argument even if we are at the end of a daunting line to begin with.

Some people have asked me, “What if you wait all that time and don’t make it in? Will you be upset?” It would be less than ideal, I tell them, but I won’t be upset. The opportunity to visit the Supreme Court is a rare one, and the opportunity to camp outside of it is an opportunity reserved only for the craziest, most nerdy Americans of them all. This will be a unique, historic experience whether we reach the Supreme Court chamber or not.

It speaks to power and vision of the Constitution that a group of college students can hear the brightest minds in the country discuss its contents. The Supreme Court is one of the pillars on which our Democracy stands, and it is amazing that we may be able to witness it in person.