My Long, Weird Road to Appearing in Court Before The Honorable and Notorious RBG
I decided to take my grief and write about my long, weird road to having the honor of appearing before the Honorable and Notorious RBG (it is a bit long but I've tried to make it entertaining and informative – enterformative(?):
RBG was appointed to the Court in 1993, a year before I entered law school. Now, here's an embarrassing admission that I have to make about myself to be fully transparent a writer - I was a staunch conservative at the time. I'm from WV and I was raised from the cradle hearing all of the conservative talking points and taking them all in and fervently believing them. I tried to envision myself as a compassionate-conservative, but I don't know that I always was, and I have been trying to atone for that since I became "woke" as they call it during the Hurricane Katrina crisis. I mention my background not only to be transparent to provide some hope that yes, conservatives can be reached and once reached they too can be flipped to seeing the light and become fierce liberals that join the fight for justice. It might take a crisis to open our eyes but once they are open, they never shut again. A lot of people will never open their eyes and these rat lickers who won't wear masks are probably among them but there are reachable ones and we are having a new crisis every day.
Even as a conservative lawyer I was impressed with RBG and admired the hell out of her. Once I became "woke" I became a super fan, but she was always a role model because we had so few as women in the law.
I started my legal career as a writ clerk for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Essentially, it was my job to read the appeals in criminal cases and child abuse and neglect cases (the things I saw in those cases are for a whole different post and none of it involves Q). I would then present both sides of the cases to the Justices in chambers and they would vote on whether to take the case or not.
I have always had a deep respect for appellate level cases. It is literally how we protect the rule of law in this country. It is why I'm so fierce about protecting the legitimacy of our Court systems. I don't think we survive as a democracy if the Courts become politicized which is what McConnel has been doing rapidly and aggressively for the past three years. It legitimately frightens me. Because in my years as a clerk I did see instances of pure politics in the chambers when they were voting on whether to take cases. In addition, as I will get to later, the case I was in front of RBG for was about politicizing the Court.
I felt honored to work in the halls of justice, especially right out of the gate of law school. I had also clerked for local Judges during the summer I was a first-year student. I have deep respect for the work that they do and at one time aspired to be a Judge myself. Every time I stepped foot into the Court it never got less impressive or less magical. The WV Court was designed by renowned architect Cass Gilbert in the early 1930's. The Court is impressive, stately and beautiful. In fact, it was so impressive, stately and beautiful that Gilbert replicated the design for the U.S. Supreme Court in 1935.
I never took for granted the history and precedent and weightiness of my job. It was an honor to work there and the stories I have from behind the scenes could fill an entire book. So, imagine my surprise when years later the actions of the West Virginia Supreme Court would take me to the hallowed halls of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009.
At that time, I was working for a firm, which along with two other firms, had obtained a $50 million jury verdict against Massey Coal and Don Blankenship, a true scourge on society, in a case for fraudulent misrepresentation, concealment, and tortious interference with existing contractual relations. Instead of paying the verdict, Blankenship pumped $3 million dollars into the 2004 judicial election to get a "liberal" incumbent judge booted from office with a vote margin of fewer than 50,000 votes - (voting fucking matters!) The Justice who got elected on the back of the $3 million-dollar expenditure refused to recuse himself from hearing the appeal and ultimately voted with two other Justices (it’s a 5 Justice Court) to overturn the jury verdict. It was a move that attracted so much national attention that John Grisham based his novel "The Appeal" on it. (Fun fact, after the decision came out anonymous photographs appeared at our office that revealed that Blankenship had taken one of the other Justices to the Grand Kingdom of Monoco while the case was being heard, however, this corruption was not part of the appeal).
I worked with attorneys from the two other firms drafting one of the most important legal briefs of my career. We brought in nationally renowned counsel Ted Olson to argue the case. Ted Olson famously represented Bush in Bush v. Gore (I know - boo! - also my sincerest apologies for my vote for Bush - I hadn't seen the light yet). Olson has since redeemed himself by defeating the homophobic Prop 8 in California and telling Trump "that's a no from me dawg" (possible paraphrasing) when asked to join his legal team in 2018.
Ted Olson was my sponsoring attorney for admission to the U.S. Supreme Court. All of the other attorneys had been previously admitted so I was the only one to get admitted on the day of the oral argument which meant that I got to sit in the front row of the Court. It was absolutely bizarre walking into the Court and feeling like I was already intimately familiar with it from my two years at the WV Court. It was the same - just larger. I was seated in front of Justices Breyer (who has a ridiculously sexy voice) and Tomas (you best believe I made sure to keep my legs crossed so that pervert couldn't see up my skirt).
RBG was on the other side of the Court but I was just ecstatic that she was actually there because it had been in doubt. The oral argument took place on March 3, 2009. On February 5, 2009, RBG had undergone surgery for early stage pancreatic cancer, the type which would ultimately take her life.
Before the argument, Ted Olson had me stand up and introduced me to the Court and gave a very brief summary of my background (first of my family to attend law school, etc). Chief Justice Roberts administered my oath (please save democracy dude - I don't want to have to rip up my admission Certificate that you signed) and welcomed me to the Court as did all of the other Justices. I will never forget the warmth of the smile that RBG gave me. Never. She was who I was focused on - certainly not Scalia or that potted-plant Alito.
Here's another side-tangent. Olson who appears before the Court regularly has taken his mother to every single oral argument that he has done before the Court. The entire Court said hello to her and welcomed her and it warmed my heart.
During the argument, Scalia was naturally all for the defendants' claims that there was no need for a Justice, who received $3 million in election help, to be required to recuse himself from a case involving the donor. RBG was simply not having it and her questions and comments (along with Breyer’s - hello daddy) completely decimated the defendants' arguments. At one point, Scalia interrupted her question to try to mansplain the issue to her. I wish I had a picture of the look she gave him and could remember the exact words that she said that cut him off at the knees but I was too busy conforming my fact to look neutral and professional when all I wanted to do was fist-pump and yell "go girl - drag him!"
After the argument, Olson took everyone who worked on the case in any capacity - attorney, paralegal, secretary etc. to a rented-out Morton's Steak House. He proceeded to go around the room and personally thank everyone for their hard work. It was one of the classiest moves that I've ever seen by an attorney of his stature. His mother obviously raised him right.
We ultimately won that appeal with RBG's vote and an opinion written by Justice Kennedy (dude really? You just had to retire when democracy was hanging by a thread? Asshat). Unfortunately, on remand, the W.Va. S. Ct. went into damage control mode (the publicity from the Grisham book was in high gear) and circled the wagons and again wrongfully overturned the verdict. It was a long, sad lesson that even with the law on your side that evil can still win. I'll admit that it damaged my faith in the rule of law.
With all of that in mind, I do worry that the days of the historical significance and reverence for the Court are fading before us. I wept for days when Kavanaugh's nomination was pushed through despite all of the allegations not only of sexual assault but his mysteriously paid off debts. I was lucky enough to be in Court on a day that happened to be an example of what the legal world should aspire to every day. But with the fast tracking of RBG's replacement and AG Bill Barr's bent toward totalitarianism we have a lot to be concerned about.
It was bitter cold that day walking up the steps to the Court, but I took in every moment and realized what a great privilege that I had to be a part of it all. How did I - a first generation attorney from West Virginia who attended state colleges (UK undergrad and WVU law school) who fancied themselves a writer - get to the inside of the hallowed grounds of our nation's Court system? I have been extremely fortunate in my career to work with some of the finest attorneys in the country. I have always tried to do what's right, what is just in my legal career and to fight for the underdog and those who need it. There were a few missteps along the way when I worked on the defense side for a few years, but I walked away quickly once I began to feel it eat away the edges of my soul.
Currently, my firm, along with many others, are gearing up to take on the pharmaceutical companies for creating the opioid crisis in our country. The trial starts on October 19th, I will be carrying RBG's spirit into the battle. Too many people have lost their lives or their loved ones to the scourge of addiction.
At the same time, I will be fighting, organizing to get out the vote, voting and calling my Senators to implore them to not let this impeached conman, who is currently considerably down in the polls, and his henchmen (looking at you fucking McConnell - you piece of shit) when voting has already started, deny RBG's last wish that she not be replaced until after the inauguration of a new President. To paraphrase Obama - don't cry - vote. We vote and we fight. We fight for RBG, John Lewis, and Elijah Cummings. We have lost a great deal in 2020 (including those who were victims of police violence and the disastrous response to Covid-19). We fight for them. We cannot give up hope or cave into cynicism. I know that I won't, however tempting it may be. We can and will be heard in Nov. Don't give up.
Lawyer, writer, borderline crazy cat lady, and author of “Killed It.” Briefly rumored to be dead after receiving "carwash" lap dance from Taye Diggs as Hedwig