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100 Hours On The Supreme Court's Sidewalk: Camping Out For A Seat To History

More than two dozen people bundled up to camp out before the U.S. Supreme Court for a seat to watch oral arguments in a same-sex marriage case on Tuesday.
Elise Hu/NPR
More than two dozen people bundled up to camp out before the U.S. Supreme Court for a seat to watch oral arguments in a same-sex marriage case on Tuesday.

Overnight temperatures are dipping below freezing and the forecast calls for snow, but cold, boredom and discomfort haven't stopped more than 30 Supreme Court die-hards from camping out for a seat to history.

"I just really wanted to be part of this moment, so I had been planning to come down for months," said Darienn Powers, a college student who came to Washington from New York. "No matter what, it's worth it to be in there and really experience what's going on."

The nation's highest court won't begin hearing oral arguments in its first-ever review of same-sex marriage laws until Tuesday morning. To guarantee a shot at the 250 seats available to the public, the first dozen campers have been parked on the sidewalk since last Thursday night.

"It gets a little boring, but you have a nice view of the Capitol, and you get crazy people coming by — had a guy in an astronaut suit," said Andy Bakker, who has some camping experience from his Occupy Wall Street days. If he doesn't give up, he and the others who started lining up last week will wait a total of 100 hours outside before the court.

"I'm not showering as much as I would like to," Bakker said.

Those who staked out spots since this weekend are almost sure to get in for Tuesday's arguments over Proposition 8, California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. Only the few dozen at the very front will get to watch the entirety of a hearing. Observers lining up later will get cycled into the chamber for a few minutes at a time. A separate line is expected to form for a Wednesday hearing on a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

But not everyone camping out is doing it to get inside. Campers say the very first handful of folks in line are placeholders who are paid by attorneys or advocacy groups to hold spots. When I asked the likely placeholders for interviews, they said interviews would cost $5 each.

Besides giving interviews or offering to sell them, campers are passing the time by reading, playing cards and making quick trips for coffee. Bonds seem to form fast when you're sharing concrete squares.

"We have built a community, and folks are showing solidarity and holding spaces for bathroom breaks," Bakker said.

Powers, who rushed out of her home to start camping out Saturday, forgot her sleeping bag. A sidewalk neighbor loaned her an extra.

If you're inspired to join the wait, "come now," Bakker said. "And bring warm clothes."

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