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Column: We can corrupt something as simple as a line

  • FILE - In this March 20, 2019, file photo, the west facade of the Supreme Court Building bears the motto "Equal Justice Under Law." (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

For the Valley News
Published: 12/20/2019 10:10:25 PM
Modified: 12/20/2019 10:10:12 PM

I am a high school senior who will be eligible to vote in the upcoming election and I have a tremendous interest in the Supreme Court. I am writing to voice my opinion about a system that is unfairly limiting access to the high court.

On Oct. 7, I traveled to Washington, D.C., hoping to watch two cases critical to the future of LGBTQ+ equality: Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC and Bostock v. Clayton County. These cases concerned whether the prohibition on workplace sex discrimination in Section VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to LGBTQ+ individuals.

I woke up at 3 in the morning to walk with my mother to the Supreme Court in the hope that not too many court fanatics had already shown up to keep us from watching the two arguments in full.

When we arrived, at around 4 a.m., there was a line of about 80 people. We made the decision to stay and wait for six hours for the chance to see Associate Justice Elena Kagan perform rhetorical jiu jitsu.

I decided to bide my time by practicing my skills as a student journalist and interviewing others in the line. I asked about their reasons for coming to the court that day. They all gave similar answers: This was an incredibly important case for members of the LGBTQ+ community and they wanted to show their support and educate themselves. I was heartened to see such dedicated citizens holding their court accountable and performing an often overlooked civic duty.

Sadly, most of these passionate individuals were not permitted a full viewing of the arguments before the court.

As I worked my way closer to the front of the line, I began to notice that more people were refusing to be interviewed. Some went so far as to say, “I can’t talk to the press.”

I was puzzled. I did not understand what precluded these fellow citizens from using their First Amendment rights directly adjacent to the very place that protects their freedom of expression.

It must have been my baffled or slightly dejected look, but a very kind woman (who identified with the group that was “unable to comment”) explained that they were professional line-sitters who were being paid upward of $1,250 to reserve seats for people who wanted to watch the Supreme Court without having to wait in line themselves.

I was absolutely livid.

I was not angry with the line-sitters. This was their job. There were college students and older people alike who probably needed the money. I was angry with the people who paid the line-sitters. I was indignant at what I viewed as an unjust system operating right outside of our nation’s highest court. Where the principle of equal opportunity was supposed to prevail, I saw a clear infiltration of moneyed interests. I saw a system rigged by those who felt they could simply pay to skip the hours of waiting necessary to secure a spot to watch the Supreme Court at work.

Then I thought of the people in that line who I was able to interview. I thought about how some of them were losing time and sleep and money just for a chance to watch our government function.

I thought about the members of the LGBTQ+ community who, despite waiting in line for hours, were not able to witness the defense of their rights before the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. I thought about how I, a gay Vermont teen, would not be privy to the live deliberation concerning the right to equal treatment under the law.

I was disheartened to say the least.

To know that a body lauded for its incisive rumination missed such an unfair situation outside its very doors made me question, momentarily, my deep appreciation for the Supreme Court.

The ability to hold our government officials to account and participate as an informed citizenry is crucial to a healthy, lasting democracy. Currently, in the lines outside of the Supreme Court, in our elections and in the criminal justice system, those with the ability to pay can “skip to the front.”

If we cannot fix the inequity of an issue so simple as a line — something literally straightforward — how are we to expect meaningful change to the complex corruption that pervades our governmental institutions?

Sam Powers lives in Barnard and attends Woodstock Union High School.




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