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The Supreme Court of the United States of America, Part V

On Behalf of | Mar 14, 2013 | International Family Law

“I had but the last few days in DC to study, to write and re-write and to wait for the pinnacle experience of my profession.” (From Part IV)

The weekend was a blur.  I’m not sure what we did as a family, but I spent much time walking, pondering, arguing and responding in my head.  

On Monday and Tuesday, following the advice from the Georgetown professors, I attended the Court’s arguments.  The Courtroom is huge and ornate. The ceiling seemed as tall as the heavens.  Yet the Justices’ bench was right there, in the room, yes, but accessible, personal.  And they were not sitting high above the room but barely above the seating, just barely.

The pomp and ceremony was auspicious.  The Marshalls in morning coats, “Oyez” calling the Court to Order.  The arguments were fast and furious, parries, thrusts, excellent, nuanced argument imbued in the subtleties that make or break our nations laws.  I left both sessions invigorated, humbled and further resolved in my approach.

Finally the big day came, Wednesday, December 5, 2012.  The last day of the October term.  We were the last case of the term and the only case on for the day. Shelia, Ben and I arrived at around 8:30.  The Marshalls took us, yes us, to the Attorney’s lounge (where only attorneys admitted to the Supreme Court may enter) for our briefing.  The Marshal was very gracious.  Ben was very honored.

As the 10:00 hour approached I didn’t know if I felt more like a man waiting to meet the King and Queen, or a condemned man soon to be escorted to the Chair. Maybe this is what the guys in the show felt like just before they stepped out onto that green diamond to play the World Series, except I had never done it before and there weren’t eight team mates ready to take the field with me.  The Solicitor General, Ms. Saharsky, was not in that room and Professor Bibas, though in attendance and certainly a nice man, was not one of my own.  My peeps were not here.  At this moment they were far away, hoping, praying, drinking copious quantities of coffee and waiting for some word.

It was time to go.  We queued up, my opposing counsel, our entourage and I. (There must always be a queue, it seems.  We stood for a few moments and then began our processional into the great chamber.  The gallery was already full to overflowing.  All eyes fell upon us, the gladiators, as we walked through the gallery, approached and passed through the Bar, the Bar itself, the mother of all Bars, and took our places there, before the bench that within minutes would seat the most powerful judges in the world.

The Supreme Court gives those who argue before it a gift, a hand cut white quill pen. One was waiting for me at my desk.  I picked it up.  I admired the fine point of the quill.  “Hand cut,” I remembered. I would have wiped a moist eye, but as God is my witness, I had long before decided that I was going to go stark raving mad if I let anxiety or any emotion except dedication of purpose enter my consciousness. Today, this moment, I was all business.  And that felt powerful.

Soon, even soon enough, the Marshal called the Court room to Order. “The Honorable Chief Justice and the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!  All persons having business before the Honorable Supreme Court of the United States are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting. God save the United States and this Honorable Court”  The Justices entered from behind the red drapes and slowly and with great courtesy to each other, took their seats.

Our case was called.  Mr. Chief Justice John Roberts called my name. He called it correctly. (He had gone to great effort to make sure he pronounced it correctly in the briefing, such is the level of their courtesy.) I rose to the podium.

As I wrote, the room is vast but standing there at the podium, the room is intimate, personal.  The Chief Justice was eye to eye with me not ten feet away. The other Justices were also close, accessible, present.  

“May it please the Court…” I began.  I will spare you the argument itself here.  The argument in all its glory and ignominy is safely enshrined on line at the Oyez website for your listening pleasure.  It took me well over a month before I could listen to it, such was the depth of my emotional repression leading up to the argument.  

I think I did well.  I followed my plan to listen to the Justice’s questions and not get lost in my own agenda of forcing what I thought they needed to know down their throats.  I tried to answer them earnestly and candidly.  Justice Sotomayor, the most knowledgable Justice in Hague matters was clearly helping me.  She has my undying gratitude.  Justice Scalia toyed with me a bit, but it was good. Justice Ginsburg was the only Justice who I really didn’t feel I satisfied, which was perturbing because I always agree with her opinions. 

Then is was Ms. Saharsky’s turn.  She was excellent.  She was crisp.  She held to the government’s position and managed the Justice’s questions quite well.  I knew she would. I never feared her performance.

Then it was Opposing Counsel’s turn.  He was in trouble almost immediately out of the box.  It seemed he disagreed with everything the Justices said.  He wanted them to ignore the Constitution because of the word “forthwith” in the treaty.  When Justice Kagan said she didn’t understand his argument, I knew he was down for the count.  When she gave him two options for his argument and he said his argument was neither, I knew that the game was over. Turn out the lights.

I had four minutes of rebuttal which was just enough time for two questions. I finished strong with a response to the Chief Justice, and then it was all over. The Chief Justice said that the case was submitted.  The Justices rose and quietly, slowly, left the room.

That was it.  The pinnacle moment was done.  I was euphoric.  Not because I was done but because I could tell that the Justices really cared, they were involved.  They knew the case; they knew the issues. They wanted to get it right.  I had a meaningful dialogue, a conversation with the Justices of the Supreme Court!

That I stayed upright from the moment the Justices left the room until the end of the day mystifies me still.  There were congratulations all around, except from Opposing Counsel who was gone before I knew it.  Much of the folks in the gallery stayed on to talk.  But proudest of all was that my 10 year old, Benjamin, got to watch me argue before the Supreme Court of the United States.  A memory not often offered but hopefully long remembered.  I gave Ben the Supreme Court’s quill.

Outside, as pictures were taken and the press readied to plum the depths of our sentiment on the morning’s proceedings, Sgt. Chafin turned to me with a tear in his eye.  He said that he had told Eris he would do everything within in his power to move heaven and earth to protect her and get her back to her home in the US.  Today, he said, he felt like he had lived up to that promise. As I write this, that still gets to me.

Now, it is three months since the argument and almost one month since the unanimous decision.  Oh, I didn’t mention that?  On Tuesday, February 19, all nine Justices found us.  All nine!  We couldn’t have been more right.  They couldn’t have been more in support.  A unanimous decision is not unprecedented, but it doesn’t happen often, either.

Anyway, it has been three months since the argument and almost a month since the decision and I think I might, just now, be getting somewhat back to normal. I saved the nervous breakdown until after the argument.  

I love my family for putting up with me through those times.  I thank my firm for having my back and helping me achieve this incredible victory.  I honor the many, many people from my alma mater, Georgia State University College of Law, Georgetown University College of Law and particularly University of Pennsylvania Law School for their work on the briefs, and the law firm of Paul Hastings, particularly Lisa Nowlin, who invested their time and their energies into creating this fantastic outcome.  They know and I know I could not have done it without them.

But now I am home. And there is work to be done.  Much work.  Good work.  And I am eager to do it!

Michael Manely