Scores of impassioned citizens flocked to the Supreme Court in the pre-dawn hours this morning to witness history -- the first appearance by Justice Sonia Sotomayor and also the re-argument of the high profile campaign finance case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
(Check out Capital Eye's full coverage of this case and its potential implications here).
Heightened public interest meant stark competition for the roughly 50 seats available inside the Supreme Court chambers to members of the public.
Three Georgetown Law School students went so far as to camp out in front of the court, arriving late Tuesday night and braving sporadic rain showers. They said they couldn't convince their girlfriends to join in on the urban camping invitation.
"One night of bad sleep is worth getting to see history," law student John Nader said.
His friends, Mike Sacks and Voltaire Casino, agreed.
"This is double history in one moment, with the merits of the case and the debut of Sonia Sotomayor," Sacks said. "They've teed this one up to demolish the precedent. I expect to see unlimited corporate independent expenditures and for McCain-Feingold to be all but gutted."
Ken Klukowski, a fellow and senior analyst at the American Civil Rights Union, also didn't want to miss the action.
"If there were any fireworks, I wanted to see them," he said.
"I think Citizens United will definitely prevail in their case," Klukowski added. "I'm curious whether the court will issue a narrow ruling or whether they will go a step further and strike down the provision of McCain-Feingold that is at stake."
Similarly, D.C. attorney Teka Thomas was eager to observe the high-profile case.
Many legal observers had been surprised by the Supreme Court's request for an additional hearing regarding Citizens United earlier this summer. The addition of Sotomayor, who replaced retiring Justice David Souter, was another attraction. So, too, was the fact that oral arguments would feature the first appearance of President Obama's solicitor general, Elena Kagan, as well as two former solicitors general.
Kagan argued the government's case. Seth Waxman, the solicitor general under President Bill Clinton, joined her as the representative of Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), authors of the landmark campaign finance legislation being challenged by Citizens United. Theodore Olson, the solicitor general under President George W. Bush, argued the case for Citizens United.
Some interested citizens traveled from as far away as New Jersey, Georgia and Oklahoma to be there.
"To me, the money in campaigns is the symptom, not the problem," said Rusty Patton, who flew in from Oklahoma to watch the arguments in person. "McCain-Feingold is a power grab to protect their incumbencies."
His friend, Graham Blackman, a self-described Constitution absolutist who for the past 19 years has regularly attended Supreme Court proceedings, drove down from New Jersey.
"This is the case I think you'll remember, so I needed to be here," he said.
And Jean Laveroni, a retired social studies teacher from Maryland, thought today would be a good day to show off the Supreme Court to her sister, Elise Easton, an accountant who was in town visiting from Savannah, Ga.
"We're just tourists," Laveroni said. "It's our court. That's why we're here standing in the rain."
Most of the 50 members of the public lucky enough to get seats inside arrived at the court between 5 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. More than 100 more people continued to gather outside in the hours before the 10 a.m. opening arguments. Court protocol allows attendees to observe proceedings for three minutes to get a glimpse of the action, too, but sisters Laveroni and Easton were happy to among the last people to get through the door with a ticket to hear the full case.
"This is about as tricky as getting the kids into Disney World," Laveroni said.