For Sale: Supreme Court Seats

Monday, March 25, 2013

U.S. Supreme Court (Justin DC/flickr)

Take a brief snapshot tour of American history in your mind. Picture those photos of unemployed Depression-era men lining up for free soup. Sanitation workers in Memphis holding signs reading "I am a man," all in a line. Gay couples lined up at the justice of the peace waiting for their marriage licenses.

There's another line that's been formed since friday in Washington outside the Supreme Court. Two historic cases on gay marriage Tuesday and Wednesday, and, as you'd guess, the public wants in. There are about 50 seats up for grabs, available to the public on a first-come first-served basis. So people, naturally, are lining up. 

Standing in line seems a fair, democratic, American way to get the hottest ticket in America on Tuesday.

But it turns out there are many in line who might not really care what's going on inside. Why? Because they are line sitters — paid by someone with deep enough pockets to get someone to save them a place. They're not breaking any laws, but in the spirit of us all having equal access to the country's most important institutions, is it right that these seats which are reserved for the public are available to the highest bidder?

Ted Frank is a lawyer, and founder of the Center for Class Action Fairness. He's in Washington, D.C.


Ted Frank

Comments [3]

Stefan from New York City

I think waiting in line is democratic in the world of service or supplies. But when people sit in line for an event, for someone else, for profit, it undercuts democracy as a whole. Lottery is a far better way to let all people have equal access to free events, and the Supreme Court of all things should practice it.

Mar. 25 2013 04:05 PM
Chris from New York

Standing in line might sound like an equal-access way to do things on paper, but it's quite the opposite in practice. I've seen it with so many things, from people getting tickets to shows to parents trying to get a seat in a particularly sought-after daycare. The richest people simply pay someone else to do it for them, giving them first access to pretty much whatever they want while the rest of us who have to work and can't wait in a line all day miss out.

The only really fair way to do it is by lottery. I don't know why more places don't do that.

Mar. 25 2013 12:44 PM
Jemma from USA

People who want to spend their time waiting for tickets at a price have every right to do so. I support the linesitting companies. THere are people: unemployed and students who are trying to earn a few dollars. It's not unethical or illegal. It's more of an equalizer than what Mr. Clark proposed.

I went to DC for the U.Mich affirmative action oral arguments; we were not able to get in to observe the oral arguments, but I will never forget the experience of being there. Very momentous. We even got to eat in the S.Court's cafeteria. Saw Senator Kennedy that day as well.

Last, and back to the point, if there are people who have time on their hands and they want to use that time to earn a few dollars, then they should most assuredly do so. It's no different from day labor actually.

Mar. 25 2013 10:36 AM

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