We were seated by 9:25. No cameras, no cell phones, no purses, no bags; just you and the suit you had on. We had to go through security twice. Each admittee was only allowed one guest. Luckily, another admittee didn’t have a guest so I wasn’t forced to choose which one of my parents got to go into the Courtroom with me. We waited for what felt like forever. There were a few faint whispers, but I think everyone was too scared to talk because of all the United States Marshals spread throughout the Courtroom. A woman sitting next to my mom was told to remove the glasses from the top of her head by the Marshal whose tie matched the maroon curtains and gold ordainments in the room. I wondered if he was wearing that on purpose, or if he was a Hogwarts fan. Finally, the clock struck 10:00 and I felt a wave of nervousness and then… absolutely nothing happened. They were late.
At long last, around 10:03, all of the curtains drew back in a dramatic fashion and the Justices walked in a straight line to their respective seats in front of them. The Clerk called court to order and the curtains drew closed.
Justice Breyer read the opinion of the court that morning. It was a case about burglary. That’s all I remember. I was too busy studying each of their faces fascinated with the fact that I was breathing the same air as they were. I was seated in the front row about 8 feet away awkwardly staring at each of them desperate to make eye contact. Justice Alito was the only one not there that day. Chief Justice Roberts had a charming Richard Gere quality about him. Justice Ginsburg was so small you could barely see her head over the bench. Justice Kavanaugh just looked thrilled to be there, but so did Justice Gorsuch. I actually appreciated their smiles and enthusiasm. Justice Breyer reminded me of the Monopoly man. Justice Kagan looked just like she did on T.V. I felt a sense of pride to see Justice Sotomayor on the bench.
Next, Chief Justice Roberts announced they would hear the motions. The movant from Liberty Law School went first and 13 admittees were sworn in. Gonzaga School of Law was next. Our movant approached the podium, stated he believed all 27 of us were of sound character and fitness (phew), and announced our name and place of residence one by one. I remembered to raise the right hand (literally) and smiled proudly when he announced “Megan D. Card, Olympia, Washington.” After all the names were announced, Justice Roberts said “Motion granted. Court is adjourned.” And just like that, the curtains drew back again and they all disappeared as quickly as they came in. I saw Justice Thomas walk down the steps and politely wait for Justice Ginsburg as he held out his hand. “What a gentleman” I thought to myself. Conservative or liberal did not matter in that moment, he was a colleague who cared. We went back into our meeting room in hopes that one of the Justices might stop by.
As luck would have it, Chief Justice Roberts proudly walked into the room with the presence and confidence that you would expect from the Chief Justice. He told us about the 8 different Justices’ portraits that were hanging in the room. One was of “The guy that looks like Mark Twain,” Justice Melville W. Fuller who started the tradition of the Justices shaking hands prior to entering the Courtroom and before meeting for conferences. “It encourages collegiality,” he said. Another portrait was of Chief Justice Roger Taney who wrote the majority decision in the Dred Scott case. Notably, I lost track after that point because I just couldn’t believe this was real life.
Chief Justice Roberts asked if anyone had run Bloomsday because one of his Marshals had earlier that year in Spokane. I was the only one in the room to have raised my hand, and was impressed that he pronounced both “Spokane” and “Gonzaga” correctly. Chief Justice Roberts told us that only about 5% of lawyers are admitted to the Supreme Court of the United States and that we should be proud to have joined that group. “As a member of the bar, you can sit in a reserved section of the Courtroom.” Chief Justice Roberts said it is actually a job in Washington D.C. to be a “line saver” for big arguments because seating is on a first come, first served basis, but that members of the bar had to actually wait in line themselves. We got our picture with the Chief Justice and after he left, the room was buzzing about how cool it was that we got to meet him. I was a little disheartened that it had not been her though.
About fifteen minutes went by. She walked into the room inconspicuously and in a very quiet voice said that she just wanted to congratulate us on our big accomplishment. No one seemed to notice her at first. My dad (aka my hero) tapped my arm and when I turned around she was only standing a few feet in front of me. She was much smaller and fragile than I imagined, but her style was impeccable and topped off with white lace gloves. What she lacked in size, she made up in quick wit, humor, and eloquence.
There was an awkward silence, and I’m sure it was because no one knew what to say to one of the most important figures in legal history. The night before I laid awake for hours thinking about the questions I would ask her if I had the chance to. And so, the first question I asked RBG was “Have you been planking lately?” Now this seems like an odd question, but at the time (December 10, 2018) she had just recovered from breaking her ribs (and this was before she had announced that her cancer had returned). She said “Maybe next week I will try.” I told her that I had just bought a shirt the day before that said “Plank like RBG.” For those that don’t get the reference, when Justice Kennedy announced his SCOTUS retirement, a photo of RBG holding the plank position went viral and she is known for her circuit training workouts.
More awkward silence. I quickly asked if she was excited about her new movie coming out (“On the Basis of Sex” which is a MUST see if you haven’t watched it yet). She said her nephew was the screenwriter and “that part of it is true, and part of it is not.” RBG noted that in the movie she was portrayed as stumbling through her opening argument and coming back with an amazing rebuttal, but it did not actually happen that way. She told us that she “never stumbled,” and she didn’t give a rebuttal. RBG said she asked her nephew why he wrote it on that 1971 case which was “just” a Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals case when she had taken many other cases about sex discrimination to the SCOTUS. Her nephew responded that he wanted it to be just as much of a love story with her husband, Martin Ginsburg, as it was about her work. Her eyes seemed to sparkle when she talked about her husband.
The questions came easier for me. “How do you feel about your newfound fame?” RBG answered “It’s quite odd. I’m 85 years old and everyone wants my picture.” She then gave us a history lesson on where the Notorious R.B.G. moniker was born. “Of course you know where that’s from [the Notorious B.I.G.]. It started with a gal who was upset about a dissent I wrote. The Notorious B.I.G. is from Brooklyn, and I’m from Brooklyn.”
I asked her if she had heard about the RBG “Dissent mints” and that I have some in my office. RBG said she had not (note: you can buy them at Archibald Sisters in downtown Olympia). One gentleman was smart enough to bring his “I dissent” RBG action figure doll and asked her to sign it which she happily did. Others asked how she was feeling and if she had any more acting parts coming up. She said she did have a part in an Opera, but it was just a speaking piece and she didn’t have any plans for more at the moment.
We then gathered around for a picture, and I made sure I got to sit down right next to my idol. I told her that the necklace she was wearing in the Courtroom was beautiful and she said it was a gift from the New Mexico Bar Association. RBG told us congratulations again and shuffled out of the room. None of us could believe that had just happened. But Gonzaga had photographers there to prove it!
I’ve always been proud to be a Zag, and now I’m proud to be a Zag and bar number 307880 of the SCOTUS. I will likely never need to use my admission, but I can’t wait to go back to D.C. and sit in the reserved section of the Courtroom…even if I have to wait in line.