Honors Course Reflections

Grayson Sumpter: Blog 1

Exterior of the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court

Today, I got to fulfill a goal that was a long time in the making. We had passed the building a few times before, but today we finally got to enter. The Supreme Court of the United States is truly an amazing place. It is one thing to talk about and think about the Supreme Court abstractly; subjects like this are things that we almost take for granted to a point that we can easily forget that at every step of the process of making our democracy work, there is someone that loves our country ensuring the institutions function. It isn’t just some closed off building. While there naturally is security, anyone can come in any day it is open, and listen to oral arguments, observe the architecture, or just eat in the cafeteria or visit the gift shop. This says something fundamentally important about our society. It belongs to the people, and like so many things in Washington D.C., is is open to our observation. Even the Court, which is the most opaque of the three branches, does not act entirely out of our eyes.

When we met with the clerk of the Court, he was very open to answer our questions that we had about the institution. He explained to us how the Court, while a very traditional institution, is still changing with the times. The new electronic filing system for submitting briefs was a project he was an early proponent of in the lower courts. This new advancement has helped the court because not only does it make it easier for those working inside to access the briefs, but it makes it easier for those that can’t afford the fees associated with the traditional submission system to ensure that they too can have their cases reviewed. The clerk mentioned to us that many of the norms of the Court aren’t legislated or codified, they simply rely on a good faith continuation of what works the best. Oral arguments can be extended, cases can be reargued, and if necessary, an incredibly pressing matter can be moved to the front of the docket. There is a flexibility that allows them to work with the unpredictable nature of things.

Thurgood Marshall sits in his Justice robe and a blue and orange striped tie, right hand resting on top of his left wrist.

Portrait of Thurgood Marshall by Simmie L Knox

One of my favorite sights was the library. Our guide told us that in that room, the books contained statutes of the United States Code, the codes of all of the 50 states, and even the statutes of foreign nations. The reason this library exists is because the justices, while recognizing the convenience of these books now all being on the internet, have an interest in holding the law in their hands when it really matters. I imagined a scenario in which the question over a law prompts a clerk to go down into the room, quickly retrieve the book, and send it up in the lift where the justices would almost immediately have it. If multiple copies are needed, the Library of Congress is just across the street, with at least one copy of every single book ever published in the United States.

The Courtroom itself is one of a kind. I could see exactly where the justices sit, the attorneys stand, and how an argument would go. I saw the red and white lights that indicate times to the attorneys that I have heard referenced in oral argument recordings many times. The justices do many things to maintain the sanctity of the room; no cameras, no food or drinks, and no distractions. I could just barely see past the red curtain in the back where the justices store their robes right before entering the Court. It was a great honor. Someday, I hope to return and see an argument before the justices, maybe even participate.

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