The First Day

Vaguely bleary eyed, we went to our first stop today, the Supreme Court. After the obvious photo op at the foot of the building we enter the vast temple of marble. As we enter there is an unmistakable air of respect in a building dedicated to the worship of the law; a place of balance and sober timelessness. There is a quiet, an understanding not of forced silence, but a humbling as we sit in the chamber of the highest court in the nation. The reality of the court sinks in. As vast as the room is, it somehow seems not quite enough to live up to the importance of the branch that will sit shortly before us. This is the place of Brown v. Board of Education; the place of Roe v. Wade. It not only deserves marble pillars-something about the court requires it.

A single handshake in the front of the room, and a secondary silence falls while enormous piles of multi-colored papers and mugs are placed along the Justices’ desk. A buzzer signals absolute silence, directions are given, and we await the beginning of the case.

Something electrifying happens as the Justices enter. The chamber is jolted to their feet. We don’t simply rise at the whim of the court; we are lifted to our feet. A number of lawyers are sworn into the Supreme Court Bar. And then the arguments begin.

There are thirty minutes per argument, interspersed with questions from the Justices. The inquiries are pelted at the lawyers, some questions handled better than others. First the EPA case, and then patent law. The hearing is filled with jargon, and it’s clear that the people speaking are truly great minds.

After the cases themselves, we run to Union Station to grab lunch. It is more like a mall than a simple transport stop. A huge food court awaited us on the bottom floor, and the lot of us eat and many re-caffinate for the remainder of the day. After lunch, as we walk back to the Supreme Court, it begins to snow. It seems strange for it to be snowing, but we slowly remind ourselves that it is January. It only seems unseasonable in comparison to the 50 degree days only yesterday.

We are treated to a tour in the Supreme Court. The docent answers any and all our questions, from the seating positions, to who speaks first in the occasions in which Justices speak at the same time, to the names of the figures lining the marble decorative pieces of the chamber. We spend a short time with him, before we are ushered into a side room. We are only there a moment before Justice Sotomayor enters the room. We rise, and she quickly tells us to sit once more. She is friendly, and warm the entire time. She pauses after each question, and takes her time to answer both fully and with careful wording. She speaks with wisdom, and a collected deliberation that suited her perfectly. This was an amazing opportunity that is still sinking in.

We took the metro for the first time as a group, and shifted to a group of Wellesley women. Over pizza we talk to alums working in NGO’s. They advise, talk about their movement from Wellesley graduation to their current careers, and answer our questions about our impending post-Wellesley lives. There is a certain comfort that always comes from speaking with alums, a reassurance that many different paths out of Wellesley lead to many different kinds of success and fulfillment. A special sisterhood does bond us, and there is a clear comfort in the room as we talk with our panelists, who have graciously given their time.

We come back to our hotel, and are all feeling the wear of the day. It will likely be an early night for all. We’ve managed through the first day, and now we’re ready for the next packed, but phenomenal, day.

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