With all of the interest around the violent video game case, Schwarzenegger v EMA, we get questions daily on the process, the case, the legal principals, our amicus brief, others’ briefs, and what is going to happen on the day of oral arguments and beyond. While we hope that the following information will shed some light on the oral argument process, we also routinely refer folks to the Supreme Court website, as well as to relevant articles on GamePolitics.
The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS or Court) building is an impressive edifice and celebrated its 75th birthday just last week. While it is open to the public, as are the SCOTUS oral arguments, seating is extremely limited for the public in the courtroom. There are somewhere between 50-100 seats available in total. Guests of the Justices and a certain number of lawyers for and guests of the named parties, members of the SCOTUS bar, and members of the SCOTUS press corps all are allowed in first. Both the bar and the press corps are made up of folks in those professions, who have gone through the process to become a member of their respective SCOTUS professional group.
Then, after all those folks go in, any remaining seats may be filled by people who line up outside the court building. Some people line up the night before, but most people begin showing up a little before 8:00 am. The public is allowed in at 9:30 to begin the security process, and the first oral argument always begins at 10:00 am. Schwarzenegger is the first case on the docket for November 2nd.
Additionally, sometimes groups stage rallies on the SCOTUS steps. It is common and routine for consumer advocacy groups like ECA, AARP, NARAL, NOW and others to put on such rallies on important constitutional questions.
Once everyone is seated, the entrance doors in the back of the courtroom are closed. Recording devises and cell phones are forbidden, and the oral arguments are not broadcast outside the room live. Within 24 hours, the official court reporter’s transcript is put online at the SCOTUS website. While SCOTUS’ blog (http://ussc.blogspot.com) recently announced that SCOTUS would routinely begin offering radio feeds of oral arguments in the weeks after the fact, they still will not be offering video.
Everyone in the audience sits waiting in hushed silence. Then three doors on the other, far side of the room open, the court marshal comes out and asks everyone to rise and stand for the entry of the Justices. Everyone rises to their feet and the Justices file in wearing their long black robes and take their seats at the bench, and everyone else sits and the court is brought to order. It’s a tremendously impressive process, especially when one visits the courtroom for the first time.
The first case for the day is called, here Schwarzenegger v EMA, and the attorneys for the two sides are called forward. First the Petitioner speaks for approximately 30 minutes giving their argument; in our case, it will be the California Attorney General. The Justices break in to ask questions in a rapid-fire Q&A. Then the Respondent has approximately 30 minutes to argue their side; in our case, it will be Paul Smith from Jenner & Block representing the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA) and the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). Again, the Justices break in and there is some back and forth with questions and answers.
That’s it. It’s very fast and almost before it began, the oral arguments in the case are all over.
Then the waiting begins again. The court generally hands down its decisions during its then-current term, which in our case ends June 30th 2011. By way of comparison, last term’s decision in the landmark First Amendment case, US v Stevens, was handed down over seven months after oral arguments. The timing of the decision relates to a lot of considerations like who writes the opinion, how split the Justices are, are there any dissent(s), and how backed up they are with other cases. There’s really no way to tell. All we can know is that there will be much nail biting and head scratching between the oral argument in a couple of weeks and the decision being handed down in a number of months.
If you’re interested in participating in the case, keep an eye on our website for more information about the rally. We also maintain a dedicated page that highlights relevant coverage. And the consumer petition that is referenced in the ECA’s amicus brief is available here along with a bunch of social networking tools and ways for you to spread the word about the petition and case.
Jennifer Mercurio (herself a member of the SCOTUS Bar) is the Vice President & General Counsel for the Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA), the nonprofit membership organization that represents gamers in the U.S. and Canada.
Disclosure: GamePolitics is a publication of the ECA