When To Show Up to Get a Seat for DC v. Heller?:
Several people have contacted me expressing interest in attending the oral argument on March 18 in the Supreme Court's Second Amendment case, DC v. Heller, and wondering when they should show up to get a seat. Just in case others might be thinking about this, I thought I would blog my response.

  First of all, let me point out the obvious that no one really knows the answer. I'm just guessing when people might show up, and when people show up depends in part on their guesses as to when other people might do the same. With that said, I would guess that the line will fill up for Heller earlier than for any other argument in recent years (and perhaps ever).

  This is true for a few reasons. First, millions of Americans have tremendously passionate feelings about their rights to own guns. Second, Heller is the extremely rare case in which the Justices are essentially writing on a clean slate: There is almost no relevant precedent at all here, which means that the Court may set the basic terms of the debate. Third, this has otherwise been a very quiet Supreme Court Term. Heller is the most significant case being argued this Spring, making this the hot ticket.

  What does this mean in terms of how early you need to show up? In recent years, the public line for blockbuster cases has tended to fill up sometime the night before. For example, in the Grokster case in 2005, the public line filled up around 10pm the night before (more here); in the Boumediene case this past fall, about 50 people camped out over night. In light of this, I wouldn't be surprised if some people get in line a full day or even more before argument time. I don't know how many people will try this, but the Supreme Court's courtroom is pretty small. If you really want to make sure you get a seat, it's probably a good idea to think of showing up in the middle of the day the day before the argument. My guess is that showing up that night won't work. That's my best guess, at least.

  Finally, remember that the oral argument audio will be released shortly after the argument ends. You might still want to go just for the experience, but if you don't make it you can hear the argument about an hour later from your computer.
Pin Head (mail):

If you really want to make sure you get a seat, it's probably a good idea to think of showing up in the middle of the day the day before the argument. My guess is that showing up that night won't work.

Now you will have to show up in the morning of the day before argument just to beat all the VC folk.
3.10.2008 7:39pm
DC Lawyer (mail):
I was able to get in to see the Lawrence v. Texas oral argument back in 2003. I got in line about 8:45 p.m. the night before, and I was 48th in line (I think about 60 get in, if I recall correctly, although that might have changed since then).
3.10.2008 7:51pm
DC lawyer,

Were you in the bar line or the public line?
3.10.2008 7:53pm
grackle (mail):
The issue in D.C. vs Heller is guns? I realize there have been maybe forty or fifty posts about the case here over the last two months but I didn't read any of them. Since they were mostly by David Koppel I just assumed they were about the right to keep ponies. My bad.
3.10.2008 7:57pm
KeithK (mail):
So, is there any law about scalping your place in line? Seems like there could be money to made... (Don't worry, I live in CA.)
3.10.2008 8:27pm
The Supreme Court doesn't allow "place holders." At least not the usual Capitol Hill professionals. Maybe Elliot Spitzer could arrange something for you to pass the time.
3.10.2008 8:35pm
Paul Milligan (mail) (www):
One thing is sure - Bob Leby and Alan Gura have done an INCREDIBLE job of marshalling the Forces of Good ( TM ). Do you realize that there are more pro-2ND amicus briefs than the TOTAL number of briefs filed on both sides in Brown v Board ?

I know a bit of the 'back story' ( just a tiny little bit ) that they had to fight to get here, and they have stayed with it to present a collection of arguments that I suspect may never have been rivalled, in their diversity and depth and breadth, in any other case.

As much as Miller sat there and rotted for 70-whatever years, stinking up the place ( come on already - one side not even filed, briefed, or represented ???), that case is now going to be closed, I think. If the Supe's wanted to run away again, I think they would have phrased the question differently, and probably have remanded by now, without argument.

The way they phrased the question suggests to me that they're willing to finally face it head on, and, be that the case, based on the filings presented, there can be only one outcome, IMO.

There will be much gnashing of teeth in Bradyville when the decisoin is announced !!!
3.10.2008 8:36pm
Bill N:
Why don't they take a page from Ticketmaster and just pass out wristbancs the day before.
3.10.2008 9:16pm
George Weiss (mail) (www):
i don't get it.

yes thell frame the debate about whether there is a personal 2nd amendment right

but in actuality most of the people there probably are hoping for an announcement of that right and even if there is sucha right

1. the case will not decide is whether there is necessarily a right to carry or use those guns in any way whatsoever..other than home self defense and to transport them within your house and to and from the sun shop. Nor will they decide

2. more importantly
there will be another "clean slate" on whether there is a personal right to own guns in virtually everywhere but DC and the US territories under the 14th amendment substantive due process doctrine.

3. and-the actual decision wont be announced for several months afterward...and both the oral argument transcript and the actual decision will be available on the day they come out-probably within an hour...for free.

4. its not like basketball-your being there to cheer on your team has no affect on the outcome (even in basketball the effect you have is extremely small)

so why are people (members of the bar?!) staying out over night in the cold to hear this oral argument?

i went to see the trial of the admin DC judge who sued the dry cleaner for 64 million-now that was worth transcript of the trail was readily available to the public, it was pretty clear that he would loose and that that his appeal would be quickly dismissed (and it was possible the verdict could have been announced from the bench-although it was not)-and the fact that we all showed up viably shamed the guy and encouraged the poor defendants.
3.10.2008 9:38pm
While there are a couple hundred seats behind the "bar" in the Supreme Court (where people who are not bar members sit), there are only 50 "guaranteed" public seats for oral argument. That is, the public seating in high profile cases is usually taken up by reserved seats for people with a connection to the parties or the Justices, though 50 seats are always reserved for people who show up in line. They are in the back row and among the most uncomfortable wood stools I've sat on. Fifty is not a big number, so one would be well advised to show up very early.

I'm not sure if there has ever been an overnight bar member line. At the last argument I attended (which was an amicus-heavy business case), the person at the front of the bar line said he got there at 7:00 a.m. Of course, bar members who don't get a seat can listen in the lawyer's lounge, which is actually more comfortable. I don't know what the capacity of the lawyer's lounge is.

To give some perspective, one would have had to show up by 3:30 in the afternoon the day before Bush v. Gore was argued to see that case.
3.10.2008 10:07pm
It seems to me a way around this would be to try and get press credentials assuming of course that representatives of say, a certain VC blog, would be granted them in the first place. Anyway, I imagine that there will be tremendous press interest in this case. Would that eat up space for the great unwashed or do those seats go to the public no matter what?
3.10.2008 10:19pm
Jay Goodman Tamboli (mail) (www):
BT: The press seats have to be reserved ahead of time and are likely already all taken. Luckily, those of us with reservations only have to show up about 45 minutes before argument.

That said, the press area is on the side of the courtroom, so roughly 80% of the press get seated behind columns and are lucky if they can see any of the Justices. Someone from the press office generally holds up fingers (one through nine) to tell us who's speaking.
3.10.2008 10:27pm
Ignatius (www):
On a normal argument day, when boring cases are being argued, I have been able to get in when I got to the Court at 6 a.m. One of my classmates got in to see the Hamdan argument by arriving the night before. Following that progression, I think I see the line forming for the Heller case right now.
3.10.2008 10:38pm
Since I would have to be deprived of my 2nd amendment right to keep and bear while in DC does the police(shudder) of DC post themselves there to watch over me and others? I just get a creepy feeling of city camping.
3.10.2008 11:18pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
I was REALLY hoping to get in. Darn. I may already be too late.
3.10.2008 11:21pm
wuzzagrunt (mail):
4. its not like basketball-your being there to cheer on your team has no affect on the outcome (even in basketball the effect you have is extremely small)

so why are people (members of the bar?!) staying out over night in the cold to hear this oral argument?

It's the opportunity to see history made, without having it fitered through press reports, or abridged by reading the transcripts (which won't indicate with of the justices are rolling their eyes).
3.11.2008 12:54am
Forget hanging out in line -- brings back bad memories of a mis-spent youth trying to score concert tickets. I'm going to take the easy way out -- sleep in and then catch the audio when the Court releases it later in the afternoon. Besides, doing it that way allows me to hang around the computer and get the play-by-play color commentary in real time on Volokh!
3.11.2008 1:27am
wuzzagrunt (mail):
with of the justices are rolling their eyes

3.11.2008 1:51am
George Weiss (mail) (www):
its cool to see the justices in real time-but you can do that with a less high profile case and still enjoy it..and not have to wait in the cold...

but i guess i see your point--if your a fanatic
3.11.2008 1:53am
rosignol (mail):
Would you give up a night's sleep to see a historic ruling? Whichever way the decision goes- even if it's a muddle- there will be repercussions. Cases like that don't come along very often.
3.11.2008 4:30am
Old33 (mail):
In December 2000, I got in the public line for the second Bush v. Gore oral argument 26 hours before the hearing started...and I was #51 in line.

For Second Amendment enthusiasts, I would suggest that DC v. Heller will be just as monumental as Bush v. Gore. If I wanted to ensure myself a seat, I'd be in line during the daylight hours of St. Patrick's Day.
3.11.2008 10:49am
Add to your calculations that Congress is in recess next week (and the week after). That means hundreds of staffers, many of them lawyers or law students , who would otherwise be working, and already live in the vicinity of First Street. One less, though, than there would have been-- I've got to travel during the recess or I'd be setting up my shelter half two days early. That might have even given me enough time to read all the amici.
3.11.2008 11:07am
Tony Tutins (mail):
When I tried to get in once there was a "three minute" line for the public. I figured that was just enough time to go in, do a quick genuflection and leave.
3.11.2008 11:15am
DC Lawyer (mail):
Orin -

Very late reply, I apologize - I was in the public line. I was but a meager law student at the time.
3.11.2008 11:42am
countertop (mail):

The only case I know of in recent memory where Bar members needed to show up the night before was Bush v Gore.

The most heavily watched case I've seen in the last couple of years, was the climate change case. I arrived at 8:00 and had to sit in the overflow bar counsel room - which with its nice courtyard is a rather relaxing place.

A former colleague of mine showed up at 7:00 and was nearly first in line. I plan to get there about 6:30 or so. Tried to get Bitter Bitch tickets, but had no luck.
3.11.2008 8:10pm
Jay Goodman Tamboli (mail) (www):
I just walked by the Court, and there are already 5 people sleeping out there. Sunday night for a Tuesday argument.
3.17.2008 3:48am
LawRah (mail):
Prof. Kerr - I decided not to stand in the line when you suggested at least 24 hours in advance. Considering there were people out there on Sunday, I'm glad I made that decision!
3.18.2008 11:19am