Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Oyez I barely got in

Today's post is about my first (and hopefully not last) trip the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).

This morning, I woke up for good at 5:45 AM (I never really got much rest last night, but that is another saga). This way, I could ride into downtown with my host, who leaves the house at 6:30 AM and gets into the office at 7:00 AM. His office is at Metro Center (G and 13th Streets), so I decided to walk from there to SCOTUS...with a pit stop for breakfast at Starbucks.

By the time I got to the Court, it was 7:55 AM and there was already a pretty serious line; I was number 72. And this was for a case that I thought was pretty obscure and uninteresting to normal folks. New York Bd. of Elections v. Lopez-Torres is a case involving New York State's crazy election system for judges.

My Aunt Lucy is a Supreme Court Judge in Bronx County (remember New York's Supreme Court is their trial court; confusing, I know) and she knows Judge Lopez-Torres personally and told me the facts of the case. Here's what happened: The Democratic Party bosses wanted her to make some moron her clerk, even though he was totally unqualified, he was a party hack/relative of a party boss. She said no. Accordingly, the party bosses used the state's cockamamie judicial election system to keep her off the ballot, although she did get on the Working Family's Party ballot. Since New York City is indigo blue, she lost her reelection in 2002. Judge Lopez-Torres is now a King County [aka Brooklyn] Probate Judge and has a much better job in terms of money, hours, etc.

Anyway, back to the oral arguments before the court. I barely got in, and Lopez-Torres' attorney's grandson was the last person allowed into the court. Another attorney from my non-profit sat along the side with me and we could only see about half of the justices around the large marble pillar. The place is pretty intimidating. Huge ceilings with marble relief, brilliant judges and attorneys, the deafening acoustics, and a very tall bench. Before arguments started, Chief Justice Roberts admitted attorneys into the Supreme Court Bar. This is the one bar membership that is worth it. Two other attorneys in our office left 10 minutes to 9AM and got in before we did. Plus, you get nice seats, you guessed it, behind the bar with the attorneys arguing the cases. ex.-Solicitor General and Bush v. Gore arguer Ted Olson sponsored someone and did the arguments for the Democratic and Republican Parties.

OK let's get back on point.

Unfortunately for Judge Lopez-Torres, all of the attorneys I talked to (and I) think this could be a 9-0 loss for her and the reformers. Justices Souter, Stevens, Ginsburg, Alito, Scalia and CJ Roberts all seemed skeptical at best of Lopez-Torres' argument. Thomas of course will do whatever the other three members of the four horsemen of the apocalypse decide, and did not ask a single question or even clear his throat. Silly cases were interrupting time he could be going on a book tour or RVing around the country.

Justice Kennedy worried about the burden of getting a slate of delegates versus the burden of getting a delegate (NY's system has delegates that pick the party's nominees, the delegates ALWAYS do whatever the party bosses want and are drawn from their own crazy districts with their no real constituency) but that was about it in favor of Lopez-Torres. Justice Stevens put up the hypothetical of a law that let the party pick its nominee however it wanted and the party let the bosses choose. Lopez-Torres' attorney conceded that that was constitutional, and in practice that is what the delegate system does. Justice Souter called Lopez-Torres' argument amounted to a right to win, Lopez-Torres reframed it as a right to compete. [Transcript of oral arguments is here]

In short, the whole thing was a disaster for those who want an independent judiciary in New York. [FYI My title is a pun off of the word Oyez. The clerk of the court always says "Oyez Oyez..." at the beginning of each oral argument to announce the Justices arrival] The AP agrees with me that the Second Circuit will likely be reversed.

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