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0 comments | January 10, 2007 | 9:48 PM | posted by Mike Reitz

WASHINGTON -- The day we've been working toward since the Washington State Supreme Court turned the First Amendment on its head last March is finally done. The arguments have been presented, as you can read in the transcripts released by the Court.

I joined a group of teachers to attend the hearing, and here are my impressions from the day.

JANUARY 10, 2007

Midnight - 4 a.m. Seating at the Supreme Court is extremely limited. While there about 175 seats, the parties and their lawyers, elected officials, and members of the Court bar are all given first entry. Which means there are as few as 50 seats available for the general public. Those interested in watching oral arguments are admitted on a first-come, first-served basis. A few years ago I attended a hearing where I spent 15 hours in line to get into arguments for a highly-publicized case.

Knowing that we had between 30 to 40 teachers to get inside, Ryan Bedford, one of the staffers with our Labor Policy Center, monitored the Court throughout the night. The Supreme Court police advised us that most people can gain admission by arriving at 7 a.m., but that all bets are off with controversial cases.

5 A.M. -- At five, about 15 of us left the hotel and drove to the Court. Despite the 30 degree weather, we were ecstatic to see we were the first in line. The Supreme Court security advised us to gather at the right hand side of the sidewalk facing the Court. We huddled together to stay warm and discussed what to expect.

Teachers gather in front of the Supreme Court at 5 a.m. to attend arguments

6:30 A.M. -- Ryan quickly became a hero when he arrived with breakfast sandwiches and coffee. There's nothing like a little warmth when you've been standing in the wind and cold for nearly two hours!

7:30 A.M -- By this time, many others had joined our line. The Supreme Court police brought us up on the plaza and handed out numbered tickets to indicate our position in line. The Supreme Court building was open by this point, so we went inside for some much needed warmth, and to visit the Court cafeteria.

8:30 A.M. -- The Court police advised us to return to the plaza line by this time. The wind had picked up, so we settled in to endure for one ore hour.

Teachers gather on the plaza

9:30 A.M. -- At this point we were permitted inside. We went through security, checked our coats and cell phones, and sat down in the Court room. The room is beautiful, with imported marble, 7-foot handcarved murials of significant lawgivers in American jurisprudence.

Two cases were to be argued, with the Davenport/Washington cases second. Without knowning the details of the first case, it was somewhat difficult to follow, although at one point Justice Breyer expressed the need for a statistician, and a math teacher in our group could have easily provided some guidance.

11:00 A.M. -- Finally we came to the arguments in our case. I'll save my comments about the arguments and questions for a future post, but Attorney General McKenna and Solicitor General Clement did an admirable job. Several of the teachers commented on the wit and repartee infused into oral arguments.

12:00 P.M. -- After arguments we filed outside. The parties, attorneys, and several others made comments to a gaggle of Supreme Court press. Then the teachers in our group gathered together with signs and a banner expressing simple, but compelling concepts: Free Speech for All Workers, Protect My Paycheck from Union Politics, and No Forced Dues for Politics. The contrast Victor mentioned below was stark. While the Washington Education Association emphasized its own rights, these teachers represented a question that Justice Kennedy posed to the union lawyer: "What about the First Amendment rights of individual workers?"

NWPE Director Cindy Omlin stands before the Court. Her work for the First Amendment rights of teachers helped make this day possible.

After a lunch at the Heritage Foundation, we all scattered to enjoy the attractions of our nation's capitol.

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