Visiting the Supreme Court - Only for the Dedicated

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Lannb26 on April 2, 2009

As a soon-to-be law student, it was absolutely necessary that I see oral arguments at the Supreme Court before I leave DC after graduation. For me, the second try (and thankfully not the third) was the charm.

Successfully getting into watch oral argument at the Court is somewhat shrouded in mystery as they don't give a very clear explanation on their website. The site says that general admission opens to the court around 9:30 before the session begins at 10. Ha! Even on a day with a no-big-deal case, if you get there at nine you will have wasted a walk and a metro trip to Capital South (although, maybe not - just walk next door and see the Library of Congress- lots of exhibits there). If you truly want to see oral argument at the Court, do the following:

Look up the Court's calendar and look for the days in the month when they will hear oral argument - Monday through Wednesday, usually just six times a month. Pick your day and go to sleep early the night before. Be at the Court (right across from the Capitol and next to the Library of Congress), AT 6:30 AT LEAST. At around 7 to 7:30, the guards will hand out little paper tickets with numbers on them. As the closed lipped guards will tell you, these tickets are not a guarantee as they have no way of knowing how many general admission spots will be available, could be 5 could be 40 (usually closer to the latter for non-headline days), because it all depends on how many 'guests of the Court' are coming. [side-note, I always think its cruel how the guards don't tell people who arrive at 8 to just go some place else, because there is no way they are getting in to watch a full argument]

When you get your ticket, you can go and warm up, dry off, cool down (as weather requires) in the Court cafeteria which you access through a side door. They say to be back in line (according to your number) at 8:30. They will start letting people in a little after 9, which is when you'll go through two rounds of security. Be prepared to sit in the back on close fitting, wooden chairs and not the nice benches towards the front.

It is a great experience though. The Justices really are the main attraction - not the petitioners' or respondents' attorneys. You get to watch them grill, unnerve, and poke fun at the attorneys. Read the briefs if you're really hardcore, but that's not necessary to enjoy the spectacle of it. Oh, and if you don't want to get up at the crack of dawn or watch a full oral argument, just show up a little later and wait for the 5 minute line where you go in and watch for 5 minutes before being ushered out - but that's no fun in my opinion.
U.S. Supreme Court
1 First Street NE
Washington, District of Columbia, 20543
(202) 479-3000

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