BY ARI EZRA WALDMAN
As the plaintiffs, attorneys, and assorted celebrities filed into the grandiose Supreme Court building at One First Street, you could get the feeling -- even from afar -- that something special was happening today. Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo walked in holding hands, as did Kris Perry and Sandy Stier. Ted Olson looked prepared and at ease, exactly what you would expect from a man who has argued more cases in front of the Supreme Court than he probably cares to count. In short, the day was momentous. Would the argument be, as well?
In a word, yes. I will let the prognosticators prognosticate, but what I would like to offer you is a legal perspective. The argument exceeded my expectations in terms of the questions the justices posed to counsel on both sides and what those questions might say about the justices' concerns. But, let's be clear: While the media have already taken to Twitter and their own websites to predict that this or that question from Justice Kennedy means that he will make this or that decision, those predictions often fall far south of meaningful. Any lawyer who has argued before a "hot bench" -- namely, active questioners -- knows that sometimes, especially in politically charged environments, judges of all stripes challenge both sides. In fact, a study of decades of Supreme Court arguments based on the number of hostile questions a given justice asked a given party showed no statistically significant correlation with that justice's ultimate decision in the case (notably, there was a statistically significant relationship found between softball questions and a favorable decision).
The actual hearing can tell us a few things, like what is on the justices' minds. Was Justice Kennedy mostly concerned about standing, or was he asking a lot of questions about equal protection? If a justice only asks about one issue, that's the one he or she is focused on. Did the Chief Justice ignore the scrutiny question and focus on how the case is really only about the word "marriage"? If so, that might only mean that he has no questions on standing, that he already made up his mind, and not necessarily that he thinks the Prop 8 proponents actually had standing.
With that in mind, follow me AFTER THE JUMP for the first of two posts offering a chronological summary and analysis of some of the more important highlights of the argument. When we all have had time to sit back and reflect, we will post a thematic analysis around the substantive questions in this case: standing, scrutiny, and equal protection.
CONTINUED, AFTER THE JUMP...