What it was (really) like in the courtroom

If I were to guess, which I have to because I didn’t count, I would say there were about 60 to 70 journalists covering the Supreme Court today. With only 400 seats total in the courtroom, you can imagine how crowded it was!

We got through security, headed to the press room and received our seat assignments. “F9.” It sounded so official. My very own seat in the Supreme Court! We all lined up and it took about a half hour to get through two layers of security. Finally, we were at the door to the court.

I had heard that some of the press seats had partially blocked views of the justices. I had no idea what “partial” meant in Supreme Court lingo. As I made my way down the cramped side row of seats, I quickly realized what “F9″ really meant. It meant “blocked by marble pillar!”

Yes, I traveled all the way across the country to witness history, and now I was witnessing a marble pillar that completely blocked my view. I was beginning to panic, except for the fact that just about every other reporter was in the same boat.

When the justices finally entered the courtroom, I let out a sigh of relief. If I twisted my neck just so, I could look through a hole in a brass decorative lattice archway to my left. Through that hole (which was about 2-inches across) I had an unobstructed view of Justices Sonya Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, John Roberts, and Antonin Scalia. Okay – all was not lost!

So it was that I was able to watch the justices expressions as they peppered the two litigators with questions – and ended up with quite a sore neck…

The anatomy of a Supreme Court case

CBS5az.com producer Steve Stout brought up an interesting point the other day. He was wondering aloud how many times the Supreme Court justices meet during the lifespan of a specific case. The answer is three times.

They meet once to vote on whether to take the case. In the SB 1070 case, they announced they were going to take the case back in December, so they had to have met just before then. By the way, it takes four justices voting to take a case for that case to make it onto the Supreme Court docket.

The next time they meet during the life of a case is when they hear oral arguments. That will take place tomorrow (Wednesday) in the 1070 case. For the past couple of months, the justices and their clerks have been reading the briefs filed by both parties, as well as the so-called “friend of the court” briefs, filed by interested parties, and basically getting the gist of the legal arguments in the case.

The last time they will meet, is about a week after the oral arguments, when they vote, behind closed doors, on what to do with the case. At that time, the chief justice will assign a justice to write the court’s opinion. Sometimes that opinion won’t come out for months, but in this case, it will likely come out by the end of June.

So there you have it – the anatomy of a Supreme Court case!

Big stage, little action expected

Former Arizona Senator Russell Pearce took center stage in a Senate hearing this morning, but only two sitting Senators showed up to listen.

New York Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat, held the hearing to explore the constitutionality and overall effects of SB 1070. Among those who testified were retired Senator Dennis DeConcini, who brought some old-school gravitas to the debate, state Senator Steve Gallardo, Todd Landfried from Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform, and Pearce.

The hearing was most notable for the fact that no Republican Senators bothered to stop by. Schumer and Pearce engaged in some spirited, but polite back and forth about why Arizona’s law allows citizens to sue law enforcement officers and whether the law encourages racial profiling. We’ll have some of the more memorable clips and 5 and 6:30 tonight.

The most memorable moment, however, took place after the hearing, as Randy Parraz (famous for spearheading Pearce’s recall) and an official from Judicial Watch, which is coordinating Pearce’s visit to the capitol, got into a bit of a shoving match right there in the hearing room! Both were taken into custody. You can see that video, as well as the whole story about what happened today at 6:30

Preparing for the big day

The who’s who of Arizona politics are arriving in Washington, DC in anticipation of Wednesday’s Supreme Court oral arguments. Former state senator Russell Pearce is already in town. He sponsored SB 1070, and is going to defend the controversial law in front of a Senate panel on Tuesday morning. (Find out what he’s going to tell the Senators on CBS 5 Morning News Tuesday, during Pearce’s live interview with our morning team.)

Governor Jan Brewer is also at the Capitol, and will have a seat in the courtroom during the oral arguments. We’re going to try to catch up with her as she heads into the courtroom. Thanks to CBS News, we’ll have a pole position outside the Supreme Court for live shots before and after the justices hear the case. (We also have a reserved seat inside, which I am particularly happy about. I graduated from law school, but have never been to the US Supreme Court before this assignment.)

In addition to the parties who are in favor of the state’s side in this legal battle, Arizona is also sending a contingent of politicians, attorneys, and ordinary people who are opposed to SB 1070. Randy Parraz, who helped orchestrate the successful Russell Pearce recall campaign is in town. We’re set to talk to him Tuesday and Wednesday.

The scene outside the Supreme Court on Monday was pretty calm, but I don’t expect it to be that way on Wednesday. I’ve already received word that there is a big protest planned for the sidewalk outside the High Court. Although it will have no impact on the arguments inside, it should make for some good TV. At the end of the day, this is an exciting display of democracy in action. Two political sides disagree about an issue, and the nation’s highest court is going to decide who’s right.