Line-Waiting at One First Street

March 24th, 2013

Mike Sacks was the SCOTUS-line-waiting hipster. He was reporting on it long before it was cool. Now, it seems that before every big case, journalists report and interview on those braving the elements to secure one of the fifty golden tickets.

The most recent bit from the Times profiles those waiting on lines for the same-sex marriage cases, though stresses that many of them are paid line-waiters.

But not everyone in line could speak passionately – or even with feigned interest – about the laws at the center of the case: Proposition 8, which prohibits same-sex marriage in California, and the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits and recognition to married same-sex couples. Some of the people in line were not tolerating the swift winds and below-freezing nights in the name of activism or political interest. They were there for a paycheck.

By hiring companies like and Washington Express, people who want to hear the court arguments can pay for a proxy to hold their place in line hours or days ahead of time, improving their odds of getting a front-row seat to one of the most anticipated cases this year.

The second and third people in line on Saturday seemed indifferent about the cases and declined to give their names or say whether they were being paid to be there. One of them said it was his third time in line for a Supreme Court hearing, but he could not remember the other cases. He said he had been in line since Thursday; seat assignments are to be given out on Tuesday morning.

“There’s been a huge demand for standing in line,” said John Winslow, director of operations for, which charges $50 an hour to hold places for Supreme Court and Congressional hearings, among other events. “I’ve got between 50 and 60 people available, and I’m anticipating that I’ll have to dip into my fleet of couriers.” His company doubles as a Congressional messenger service.

I don’t have any problem with line-waiters in the abstract, so long as they adhere to the principle of on “one waiter, one spot.” What pisses me off is when one line-waiter will save several spots. For McDonald v. Chicago, I was originally number 37 or so, but by the dawn’s early light, when the paying customers arrived, I was bumped down to like 46 or so. I almost didn’t make it in. This happened to me several times over the years after my camp-outs.

I have an entire section in my book about the ACA line, made up of interviews and press reports with those lucky 50. It seems that the number one line-waiter for the same-sex marriage cases will set the new record, and smash the old one of 96 hours.

Update: Some Twitter-brawling between Adam Liptak and SCOTUSblog.