Rumor had it that if we wanted much-coveted tickets to the oral argument in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., we would have to arrive at the U.S. Supreme Court very, very early. The gallery of the Court is fairly small, and there are only a limited number of seats available each day to the general public. After a few phone calls and some internet research, we decided 4:00 am would do the trick.
Then, at 10:00 pm the night before the argument, we heard from a friend that 20 people were already lined up outside the Court. After putting in countless hours working on the Legal Historians amicus curiae brief for the case this past fall, we were bound and determined to be inside the Court when the justices heard the case. Totally unprepared to spend the night outside, we decided to head over anyway.
Armed with a bag of fruit, little to protect us from the elements, but plenty of good energy to make up for it, we arrived at the steps of the Court at 11:30 pm. A couple dozen other law students, all of whom had contributed to the case in some capacity, greeted the four of us as we took our places in line—numbers 28 to 32. As the night wore on, others joined the line, and we huddled in the cold, sharing food, war stories, and predictions of what the morning would bring.
There was a sense of camaraderie in the group. We had never met most of these students, but we all shared a commitment to the issue at hand—corporate accountability for human rights violations. Sometime before dawn, a police officer referred to the gathering as “kind of like a rock concert—but for nerdy law students.”
At 7:30 am, the big moment arrived. Police officers handed us gold-colored tickets with numbers, and told us the first 40 would be admitted. We’d done it. We’d made it in.
We entered through the side door, exchanged our sweatshirts for suits in the bathrooms and, minutes before the oral argument began, walked into the grand chambers of the Court’s gallery.
It struck us at that moment—and often in the hours before—that we were among the lucky. As students at Harvard Law School, we had the opportunity to fly to Washington, D.C. and wait all night to witness this historic argument. For many others who deeply cared about the case, that was not an option.
Inside the Courtroom, we sat flanked by stone-colored colonnades and heavy, red curtains, listening to the argument unfold. It was tense for all of us, trying to divine where the justices stood on the issues. Then, in an exchange with the Defendants’ counsel, Justice Stephen Breyer read out a line from our brief. To hear those words echo through the chambers of the United States Supreme Court was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We feel so fortunate to have worked with the rest of the team from the International Human Rights Clinic on a case with this much at stake.
Yonina Alexander, JD ’12, and Daniel Saver, JD ’12, have been members of the Clinic for the past four semesters.
For more information on Kiobel, click here for our resource page.