Next time you hear a cell phone go off in a movie or at the theater, and think to yourself, “What an a**hole!”, remind yourself: Someday YOU might be that a**hole.
Watch this video, from the start of the Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court finals, which we attended at Columbia Law School earlier this week. Pay special attention to what happens around the 18-second mark:
Yes, that’s right. The judges entered the room, their robes billowing out behind them. The court crier made the very formal and grandiose announcement: “Oyez, oyez…” The room fell into a solemn silence. And then, at that precise moment, our computer — which was in the process of turning on — made that annoying Windows start-up noise. Loudly.
One could feel a wave of horrified embarrassment sweep through the audience. Justice Alito chuckled, so hopefully he wasn’t too offended. But we were mortified (and rightfully so).
In our defense, this was a complete accident. We were in the process of setting up and turning on our computer, and we didn’t know when exactly the judges would be arriving. We turned our computer on, and it began the start-up process (which can take a little while). Unfortunately, just seconds after we turned it on, the judges made their entrance. And even more unfortunately, as the silence settled over the room, our computer made that colossally loud cyber-fart.
In any event, our apologies, Your Honors! Please do not blame the CLS audience for this rudeness. It was completely our fault.
We took some rough notes on the proceedings. They will probably interest you only if you attended the Moot Court finals yourselves. Or if you care about the hairstyles of Article III judges.
If you want to see our commentary, it’s available after the jump.
Bench: Samuel A. Alito (SAA), Susan P. Graber (SPG), Brett M. Kavanaugh (BMK), Sonia Sotomayor (SS)
SAA seems to have more hair than when we last saw him. Has he been taking water from the fountain at One First Street and rubbing it into his scalp?
SPG: Whoa! Someone got her federal judicial hair dyed, from grey to dark brown. Hello! But she left a platinum streak in the front. Very Cruella de Vil!
(To see a pre-dye-job photo of Judge Graber, click here.)
BMK has picked up a few grey hairs since we last saw him. Who says life on the D.C. Circuit is stress-free? Maybe SPG can lend him some dye.
SS: Same hairstyle she wore to this wedding.
The fabulous Martha Ann Alito is sitting in the front row! And SAA clerk Matthew Schwartz is sitting to her right. Dean David Schizer is sitting to her left.
Schwartz was writing notes to Martha Ann Alito during the argument. One of them made her chuckle.
MAA: Black suit with white piping, red and white blouse, red and white kitten heels. Sharp.
Sitting in front row, right in front of us: SAA security guard with magic earpiece.
Odd to have a four-judge bench; no presiding judge in middle.
For the Petitioner: David Gringer (Title VII), Patrick Somers (Title II)
For the Respondent: Eric Chesin (Title VII), Geoffrey Reed (Title II)
No women among the finalists, or persons or color. Just four (rather good-looking) white males.
[Ed. note: This was also noted by some of the commenters. The lack of diversity part, not the "rather good-looking" part (except for this comment).]
All of the judges are participating, asking thoughtful questions. Gringer speaks well. But better to say “Your Honor” or “Judge X” then just “Judge.”
Gringer looks a little like Chris Elliott.
(This argument isn’t terribly amusing.)
SS is pretty saucy! The most active questioner. SPG is probably least active questioner (her microphone was off). SAA and BMK are moderately active.
Chesin tries to start off with grand themes — can employer who hires undocumented alien “benefit” from that — but SAA kinda shoots him down (“isn’t this about the protective order as an abuse of discretion”).
Chesin speaks very well, more animated than Gringer. But maybe a little too quickly — debater-ish. Also somewhat argumentative (and maybe the judges are pushing back a little).
SPG: “What if a person looked a lot older than she was, and she got a job at age 13…”
(What if a person looks a lot older than she was, and she gets her hair dyed…)
Chesin: “I take umbrage with the phrase.” No, more like “take issue.”
[Shout-out to high school and college debate nerds: Eric Chesin totally reminds me of John Bronsteen in his speaking style.]
(This argument isn’t very entertaining…. Oh, actually, we take that back; it’s starting to shift.)
Tough questions from SS. She’s pretty bad-ass. Pretty diva-ish.
First humorous exchange:
EC: “We potentially concede that…”
SPG: “What does ‘potentially conceding’ mean?”
EC: “You caught me, Your Honor.”
Second humorous exchange:
SAA: “It seems that what you’re left with at the end is just attorneys’ fees. Is THAT what you’re really interested in?
Third humorous exchange:
SAA: “Wasn’t the magistrate judge, by entering this protective order, aiding and abetting an illegal alien? What about the magistrate judge?”
EC: “The magistrate judge is a friend of mine.”
SPG: “Yet another conflict of interest for your side…”
(Okay, maybe you had to be there…)
David Gringer (rebuttal)
Reminds us a little of Guy Pearce.
PS: “May it please the Court…”
SS: “Can you please raise the microphone?”
PS: “May it please the Court….”
PS: “I tried…”
PS seems to be making a deliberate effort to speak more slowly than the others. SS is going after him. Relentless, feral.
PS is pretty even-keeled, very good speaker, seems “reasonable.” Seems to know the record very well, recites statutory subsections off the top of his head.
BMK: “Well, hasn’t the Justice Departmented interpreted the statute [in a manner unfavorable to your client]?”
PS: “This isn’t the first time the Department of Justice has overreached…”
SPG asks PS about a case referenced in the briefs that she confesses she didn’t get the chance to look up. before the argument.
Hmm, someone didn’t do her homework…
PS: “I’m not aware [of that case], Your Honor…”
Make that two people…
[Carefully adjusts the microphone before speaking.]
Gets out one sentence, SPG jumps on him. Notes that statute of limitations has run on one part of the case. “Isn’t this really just an effort on your part to avoid a malpractice case? Just like your opposing counsel is just here for the attorneys’ fees?”
Like the three other finalists, also a talented advocate. Poised, well-spoken. Attractive, too.
SAA (citing a Ninth Circuit case going against Reed): “I thought the Ninth Circuit opinion was strong here, wasn’t it? (That opinion was by SPG.)
SPG (interjecting): “I didn’t even buy his lunch!”
GR: “But there are a couple of areas where we believe the Ninth Circuit relied upon erroneous premises…”
SPG (sighing): “Go ahead. It’s not the first time…”
Another interesting exchange:
BMK: “One district court stated that if your interpretation is accepted, the statute becomes one of the greatest drafting debacles of all time. Would you like to respond to that?”
GR: “We can all agree this is clearly a case of suboptimal drafting. But that being said…”
Patrick Somers (rebuttal)
Comes up with weird hypothetical about “Ms. Duarte” (the actual plaintiff in this case) and “Ms. Schmuerte” (sp).
Everyone starts laughing. And forgets the point he’s trying to make.
(Practice pointer: Avoid hypotheticals featuring parties with ridiculous names.)