This week I made a “business trip,” I put it in scare quotes because it was more like a “school trip,” than a business trip, but the caliber of the trip makes it seem more akin to business for me. I’ve not had many business trips, in fact the only other one to this hectic level was probably when I went to New York City for a law school scholarship interview. While this D.C. trip wasn’t for business per se, it had all the usual elements of a business trip: paid travel, paid lodging, little sleep, carrying dress clothes around, overpriced (not paid for) food and drinks, meeting important people, and trying to sneak in some personal time.
The occasion was my “Supreme Court and Environmental Law” course, the destination, Washington D.C.
It makes sense for a class based around the Supreme Court that you would, you know, actually visit the Supreme Court. So we did, for not one but two oral arguments. The fact that my professor was college roommates with the Chief Justice of the United States (John Roberts) probably doesn’t hurt. Now, this wasn’t actually my first time going to D.C., I had been there a little over 10 years ago with my Dad, Stepmom, and Daryl 2 (Aunt Train still lived in the area at the time). I honestly don’t remember a ton of the minor details for that D.C. trip, just the major things like the Capital, Arlington, etc. For that trip over a decade ago I remember there being construction everywhere, not being able to get close to anything, and lots of homeless people.
10 years later and there is still construction everywhere. However you can get closer to things these days (still not the White House) which is likely a result of an increased distance from 9/11, and while there are definitely homeless people, they didn’t seem as numerous as they were in Denver, or maybe they just aren’t as aggressive as in Denver, it’s hard to say.
Either way, Valentino had decided he was going to be my travel buddy and he was more than ready to go exploring!
Even though many of the sights we would see were a repeat for me (though I’d forgotten most of the details), it was all new for Valentino, so he was a bit antsy and anxious for the plane to arrive.
Fortunately there were no issues with our flight, despite it being a little rainy that day.
Speaking of my flight, this was my first time ever using JetBlue. They were the cheapest option for getting to D.C. from Boston (closely flowed by U.S. Airways Air Shuttle service) and even though my airfare gets paid for, its a reimbursement, so I wanted as cheap as possible. My initial impressions are pretty good. They were friendly, on time, had cool snacks, and the pilots engage you a lot more than on other airlines. For instance, the first pilot went by the name “Moose” (no seriously) and he looked like Elvis Presley. I mean, he literally looked like Elvis, to the level of passing as an impersonator. Sadly he didn’t sound like Elvis, though he did have the Tennessee-twang, so it was close enough, he was Elvis.
They also have the “Blue” theme down pretty well with their snacks.
Upon arriving in D.C. I got on the metro and was on my way downtown. I still had about 3.5 hours before I had my first meeting, so I had time to walk around the Capitol Mall area, though not quite enough to get out to Arlington. The “bunker” like appearance of the D.C. stations immediately came back to me.
I traveled from Reagan International to the Capitol South Station, because I thought that that was where I would go in the morning (turns out that was wrong) and it was only about 2-3 blocks south of the Capitol Hill area.
While walking up to the Supreme Court to familiarize myself with the location location I passed the library of Congress.
Harvard has the largest academic collection of legal material (statutes, compilations, reports, treatises, reviews, scholarship, etc.) in the world, but they are second overall to the Library of Congress. From the library I went up to the Supreme Court and messed around until the guards told me I was too close to the stairs (lol), so I figured I would return in the morning when I wasn’t a pleb. Just across the street from the Supreme Court is the Capitol building, which was very much under construction.
I decided to circle around to the front to see what the construction on that side looked like. When I did I passed this little stone tower than I vividly remember from over a decade ago.
I have no idea what it was then, and I have no idea what it is now. Interestingly enough, one of the big reasons I remember it is because I took a picture of a squirrel next to it back in 2005. Lo and behold, there was another squirrel nearby this time as well.
From the front the Capitol looked pretty much like construction, however you can get much closer to it now than in the past.
Looking outwards from the Capitol you can take in even more construction.
Fortunately this was about as far as the construction extended. It was kind of interesting, when I was there in 2005 all the construction was on the west end of the Capitol Mall, and then this time it was all on the east end. So I’ve gotten to see everything without construction, it just took 10.5 years.
Valentino was really enjoying himself.
He made some duck friends as well.
From the Capitol we started walking west, semi-retracing my path from ten years ago (which had started at Union Station). So we passed by some sites such as the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
However, we were starting to get hungry (we hadn’t eaten a proper lunch) so we took a quick break for a pretzel on the mall.
It was alternating between clouds and sun, but during our snack break the sun stayed out for awhile and it actually started to get pretty hot (not just for October, but actually hot)!
After our snack we continued down the mall, passing by the Smithsonian Castle.
You can safely assume that Tristen has claimed it as his D.C. base of operations.
We also passed by the Museum of Natural History, probably the Smithsonian’s most famous museum.
Although we didn’t have time to go in any of the museums, I still enjoyed seeing the architecture. Before too long we had reached the Washington Monument, or as Valentino called it “the big iceberg.”
Last time I was here you couldn’t even get close to the monument and the whole area was under construction and being resurfaced, I remember it pretty much sucked. This time I was actually able to go up and enjoy it.
I didn’t bother getting a ticket to go up the monument (they were likely gone for the day anyways), as Bunker Hill had been quite enough for me. However, I did get right up next to it. For some reason I kept thinking of Pink Floyd.
From the monument Valentino was able to see the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool, so he was getting pretty excited.
Right about the time we got to the World War II memorial it started to rain.
The good news is that this mostly scattered the groups, which were rife with annoying children and my arch-nemesis, tweens.
Although I remembered this memorial fairly well, there were some details I had forgotten, such as this quote which I really liked.
I hadn’t forgotten the “Price of Freedom” wall, though I understand it a lot more at 28 than I did at 18.
I remembered the Eagle wreath-bearers, but they are still pretty awesome to see again.
Once we were past the WWII memorial, Valentino was quick to rush down to the reflecting pool.
Last time I was here it was full of moss and surrounded by construction. This time it was much more pristine, even if a bit green from some angles.
At the end of the reflecting pool the sun came out and allowed for a nice view of the Washington Monument.
Some military helicopters flew by and Valentino FREAKED out, he loves helicopters.
Ole’ Honest Abe was just as I remembered him.
And Valentino seemed to enjoy his company while he looked out to the reflecting pool (and the way from which we had came).
Behind the memorial I was able to snap a cool picture of the Arlington Memorial Bridge and the Potomac River.
After that we headed over to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, stopping first at the “Three Soldiers” statue.
There were quite a few elementary/Jr. High tour groups in the area, who were managing to be as annoying as humanly possible.
But it was still a somber place.
There was also a Veteran’s group visiting, which created an interesting contrast between the silent older Veterans and the ignorant young tweens taking selfies.
About this time I decided that I should start heading back towards the general direction of my 6pm meet-up, which conveniently took me towards the White House. However I took a bit of a detour along the way to see the Constitution Gardens Pond, which was well worth it.
From there it was on to the White House, or rather on to trying to figure out how to get to the White House without being chased away by police.
I actually failed and ended up getting chased off by the cops near the South Lawn anyways (but not before Valentino could sneak inside). So I wasn’t able to get super close to the White House as right as I arrived they started shutting down the area around it for “Security Purposes” (at least according to the cop who blew his whistle at me then acted shocked that I started to ask him a question rather than immediately walk away).
What I think was actually going on is that there was some sort of party or reception happening at Barack’s pad because there were quite a few limos and fancy cars driving up to the White House and there seemed to be a bit of activity around it.
However not everyone left, there was a squirrel. Squirrel gave no shits.
So, me being me, I decided to walk around to the other side of the White House to try my luck. Naturally they had blocked off (or were in the process of blocking off) all the methods of getting up to the fence, but it did give me a chance to take in some of the city while I was walking around.
I had moved closer to the Capitol since leaving the Lincoln Memorial, but it was still quite a ways off.
I ended up walking further than I intended in my vain quest to be a tourist.
A lot of the historical buildings were cool though, so it was worth it.
In the end I did find another view of the White House, though they had closed down all of Lafayette Square (the park north of the North Lawn), so it still wasn’t that close [I was about a block north of Pennsylvania avenue at this point].
However, someone on this side gave no shits either.
That is when I realized that the government is actually ran by squirrels.
Since it was getting close to 6, I decided to start heading to the venue. On the way I inadvertently passed by the American Bar Association, which was pretty cool.
Since I’m a decently quick walker I was able to walk down a few more streets than necessary in order to take in some more of the area.
Certain little areas (like this currently shut-off fountain) came back to me once I saw then, though I couldn’t have recalled them without a visual.
From there it was time to go to my 6pm meet-up, an HLS Environmental Student & Alumni gathering orchestrated by my Professor (who is kind of an Environmental Titan). The Happy Hour (that wasn’t really a Happy Hour price-wise) was at Elephant & Castle. I was actually the second person (of like 42 RSVPs) to arrive. I am still learning how to be fashionably late. I decided to get a drink, which is sort of mandatory at lawyer gatherings, and tried out one of their seasonal offerings which was from a (new to me) Maryland brewery: Heavy Seas – Great’ER Pumpkin Ale.
This was a good Pumpkin Ale, and they even served it with a cinnamon sugar ring around the top of the glass. It was mind blowing. Somehow I had never thought of doing that with Pumpkin Ales, but it makes so much sense!
You know what doesn’t make sense? Paying freaking 12.16$ for that one single beer. Yeah, I am not joking. It is officially the most expensive beer I have ever purchased (beating out the Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA), and while it was good, it was NOT 12.16$ good. The beer itself was 10.45$ (yes for that little glass), and then there was a mandatory tip of 1.71$ (so like 16.4%) and THEN they asked for an additional tip on top of the 16% tip, oh yeah, no. So I paid 12.16$ to have a good beer, which is about 6.16$ more than a good beer is worth.
However, in fairness, I probably still came out ahead. In fact I only spent 59$ in total for a 32 hour D.C. trip. A lot of that had to do with the fact that my Professor connected me (and an LLM from Hungary) with an HLS alum who was kind enough to not only let us sleep at her house for the evening, but also feed us dinner and then breakfast. She (the alum) was at the “Happy Hour” so we just left from there. We took the Red Line all the way from Washington D.C. to Silver Spring, Maryland. While this isn’t as far as it might sound, it’s still a long way. Once at the Silver Spring metro station her husband picked us up and then we drove to their house from there. Dinner with the four of us (5 if you count Guinness, their awesomely named dog) was really cool. Lots of interesting discussion and good food and drinks. Herein is why I say I came out ahead, because while I might have paid 12.16$ for one beer, I got a hearty dinner and three more beers (and dessert and breakfast and lodging – but really lodging) for free. Of the beers I had the one I remember most was DC Brau Brewing Co. – The Citizen.
I actually had two of these. Not only were they my first Washington D.C.-brewed beer, I think they were also my first Belgian Pale Ale as opposed to an India Pale Ale. Sadly all I really remembered about this beer was that I liked it. After that many beers and a lot of curry (and then brownies and ice cream) and just being generally exhausted from the long day and walking 16.5 miles (yes, 16.5), I didn’t have much “beer memory” (case in point I don’t even remember the first beer I had at their house). So hopefully I can find some DC Brau to try again, and if not I’ll be sure to look out for more BPAs.
So, needless to say, with us being in Maryland and needing to meet everyone else at the Supreme Court by 8am it was going to be an early morning. In light of that we wrapped up our conversations (which were interesting, even in spite of my asspie self) and headed for bed. Their house has one guest room upstairs (which I offered to the LLM) and then they had put a mattress in the basement. Everyone made it seem so noble of me, but in actuality I really like sleeping in basements. When I got downstairs I found that Valentino was already getting things unpacked (he was just a bit sleepy).
After I went back upstairs to brush my teeth (no downstairs bathroom) Valentino had tucked himself in.
Despite being a little chilly in the basement (it was in the 50s outside, so not terrible) the bed was SUPER warm and pretty comfy to boot. In fact I likely would have got a sound nights sleep (if only like 6 hours, but still sound) except for some demon device over the corner. I have no idea what it was, but it looked like some kind of router. Anyways, at (seemingly) random intervals throughout the night it would beep, and I don’t mean a meager little beep-beep, I mean Freaking Hounds of Hell Thor Unleashed Ragnarok Beep. This beep was so damn loud you could hear it on the second floor of the house, but the sheer ungodly horror of it didn’t occur to me until it woke me up in the blackness with its shrill banshee cry of soul-death. So, yeah, I slept ok between the periods of bomb sirens, which is to say I didn’t sleep well. But I still saved hundreds of dollars by staying there, and the company was good.
Valentino must have slept ok, because he was up and ready to go at 6am.
By 7:10am we were bound for the station and then back on the Red Line and down into D.C. We went to Union Station (which brought back memories) and from there it was about 15 minute walk to the Supreme Court.
So here is the cool thing about not being a pleb. We had reserved seats, courtesy of the Chief Justice. So we literally got to skip not only the huge public line (many of whom wouldn’t even be able to get in due to space) but also the Supreme Court Bar line (lawyers). We got to go around to the side and go through a little door on the side of the building and get through security in all of like 30 seconds. It was awesome.
Once inside we met up with everyone else in the cafeteria, though I passed on food since my HLS host had fed us with a yummy chocolate croissant and I had also ate a Kind bar prior to realizing I was going to be fed.
After that we started lining up to go upstairs and through the second (more strenuous) round of security.
The statue is of John Marshall, if you were wondering.
Sadly beyond this point I got stripped of everything except a small notebook and a pen (and even those were inspected by hand). So there are no photos of my Supreme Court experience. However, photos could not have done the upstairs justice. The courtroom was AMAZING, I’m talking like.. the stuff you would imagine from Ancient Rome. I am forever ruined on court rooms. When your first actual court room experience is at the Supreme Court, you’ve kind of spoiled yourself. As I mentioned, we saw two oral arguments. The first, Campbell-Ewald Co. v. Gomez — concerned the effect of complete settlement offer on federal court jurisdiction over individual and class-action claims, as well as scope of government contractor immunity from lawsuit, while the second case (which was the one we had studied for three weeks in class) was the consolidated cases of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission v. Electric Power Supply Association and Enernoc v. Electric Power Supply Association — which concerned validity of a FERC rule in regulating payments by wholesale energy suppliers to retail users to induce reduction in power consumption at peak periods of use as well as whether the FERC rule was invalid as arbitrary. If these sound complicated, there is a reason they call this the Supreme Court 😛 . But in seriousness, they were very interesting cases from a legal perspective, if not to the “social” level of Obergefell v. Hodges and King v. Burwell.
One of the coolest things about getting to see oral arguments (aside from the abrasive and overly zealous small wee-wee security personnel) was getting to see the Justices in action. Most of them were exactly what I was expecting (especially Ginsburg, Scalia, and Thomas), while others (such as Breyer and Sotomayor) were a bit different than I had anticipated. While I generally do not agree with his policies, Chief Justice John Roberts is immensely impressive in action and he is undeniably one of the best lawyers of our time. Overall it was awesome, completely awesome. Even if I had zero legal background, it would have been awesome, because the Supreme Court is like high-tier classic courtroom drama, where only the best of the best come to play. In the FERC case there were three parties. On the public petitioners side was the U.S. Government (FERC) represented by the Solicitor General himself, Donald Verrilli. On the private petitioners side was some industry representatives, represented by Carter Phillips of Sidley Austin (who we had met in class a week prior). On the private respondents side were the industry representatives from the “other” side, represented by Paul Clement of Bancroft. All three offered amazing oral arguments, though the class was torn over whether the Solicitor General or Clement had done the best job. Though both Phillips and Clement probably make like 500x more money than the SG did, either way.
However, most importantly, long after I’ve forgotten all the details of the cases and the legal specifics of the arguments, I’ll remember that Antonin Scalia brought up Unicorns. Yes, Unicorns. That is your Supreme Court ladies and gentlemen.
Now, the downside of the Supreme Court is that you can’t leave once your in the courtroom. Well you can, but you can’t come back, period. So when we got seated at like 9:15, it meant we were going to be there without moving (and without talking – archaic rules abound in the Supreme Court) for 3 hours. What this meant was not that I was about to piss myself (surprisingly) but that the croissant had LONG worn off and my blood sugar was plummeting and by the end of the second argument I was struggling to stay awake. Fortunately once court adjourned and we shook a few hands, some of us got temporarily lost in the cavernous building, and then got our mandatory class photo it was time for lunch. We headed over to some cafe I don’t even remember the name of, though I could probably find it by location. On the way we passed a cool fountain area.
After lunch we headed over to Georgetown’s Law Center (which is the odd name they have for their law school).
While it was admittedly a pretty (if not small) campus, it still felt like we were in enemy territory (and I was not the only one who felt this way). The reason we were there is that my Professor actually taught at Georgetown before being poached by Harvard’s boundless wealth, so he still has lots of connections there. Paul Clement (who in addition to being a Supreme Court advocate and Partner at Bancroft is also a Georgetown law professor) was meeting us there at 3pm. We met up in a small scale “mock” of the Supreme Court courtroom called “The Supreme Court Institute Courtroom.”
Since the room was designed by my Professor, I won’t really knock it other than to say that the replica PALES in comparison to the real thing. I mean this would be like comparing the diarrhea blast on the wall of the gas station bathroom to the Sistine Chapel. However, it does replicate it (in theory) at least good enough for moot courts, and moot it does. In fact that room is often used as a moot (e.g. practice) court for lawyers prior to Supreme Court cases, including the recent famous ones. This is in part due to the “mock” appearance, but more-so because its like a 10-15 minute walk from the Supreme Court, not that these rich lawyers walk places.
After meeting with Clement we went off on a longer walk over to “Main Justice,” or as it is more commonly known the Headquarters of the United States Justice Department.
Right across from Main Justice is the National Archives, which is where the Constitution was until Nicholas Cage stole it.
Some of the original doors to the DOJ were pretty cool.
Of course they don’t use those doors anymore. Now you go in the little side entrance and straight into security that makes up the TSA’s wet-dreams. However, it was totally worth it because we were getting ready to meet Donald Verrilli (Solicitor General). Now, before I describe Don, I’ll make sure you know what the Solicitor General is, because most Americans don’t know (just like most Americans who claim to support/love/bleed-for the Constitution have never even read it). The Solicitor General is a Presidential-appointee, so he serves “At the will of the President.” Don was appointed by Obama and has served for 5 years, which is a decent period of time for a SG. The Solicitor General sort of makes up a “Two-Part” legal dream team for the United States. The other side is the Attorney General, currently Loretta Lynch. The AG is also a Presidential-appointee, and Lynch was also appointed by Obama (this past April actually).
So what is the difference between the SG and the AG? Well, there are a lot of layers of complexity, but it can be boiled down to something fairly simple. The AG is like the Sheriff of the United States. The AG is officially the head of the entire Department of Justice, e.g. World Police. The AG acts in a manner similar to a Sheriff in that they are the commander of their “police” force. Their duties are broad, and while they are a lawyer, they are also an enforcement officer and politician. The SG on the other hand has a much more narrow task, they represented the United States before the Supreme Court. So the SG is like the prosecutor that the Sheriff (AG) relies on. So while the AG is more like a “Sheriff” the SG is more like a “Lawyer.” Anytime you see the United States at the Supreme Court, its being represented by the SG’s office (note: not necessarily the SG themselves, it’s often an Assistant or Deputy SG, such as Edwin Kneedler). The SG himself/herself tends to take on the most important cases and let their slaves take on the less important cases. So it’s really cool that I got to see the SG in action. In the DOJ hierarchy, the SG is below the AG, though in lawyer circles the SG tends to get more street cred. So not only had we got to meet both Paul Clement (Respondent) and Carter Phillips (Private Petitioner), we were now meeting the third party to the FERC case, Don (U.S. Petitioner).
So now that you know what an SG does, I’ll sum up Don very succinctly: J. Jonah Jameson. I am being completely serious, Donald Verrilli is like the living embodiment of Jameson. I can’t help but believe that he hunts Spider-Man in his pastime. So needless to say the dude is pretty awesome. Valentino also liked him.
We were lucky in that we got to talk with him for about an hour. He answered all sorts of stuff that I am (literally) sworn to never repeat (no seriously). The coolest stories involved his interactions with other powerful people such as Obama, Justices, and foreign heads of state. After our meeting he showed us into his actual office which was AWESOME, easily the coolest office I’ve ever been in (as an aside the Attorney General’s office is down the other wing of the same floor of the building – but we didn’t go down that wing). Plus it was really cool hearing the history of his desk, which belong to Thurgood Marshall and is now officially a national antique, and being able to touch it and history-nerdgasm all over the various others things in his office. In other words it was pretty freaking amazing.
We also were able to check out a few other areas of the floor, though we had to be closely guided. At least most of us, I actually had a “Green” badge, which meant that I didn’t have to be escorted everywhere (though I still had no access to doors, etc.). This was because of my prior DOJ clearance from this past summer. However, the rest of the group (even including the Professor, despite him formerly working in the SG’s office – though it was like 35 years ago) had “Red” badges, which meant that they had to be escorted. So I just stayed with the group anyways.
One area we were able to check out was the library, which was pretty cool.
The murals around the building were pretty interesting and even downright weird.
Notice anything odd in that mural? Yep, it’s a squirrel. I am telling you, squirrels run the United States, you cannot disprove this.
Sadly most areas of the gorgeous building I couldn’t take photos of. It was actually built in the depression-era with a lot of public-works labor, so there were some very skilled workers, painters, sculptors, metal-workers, etc. who were brought in (as a way of giving them work) and it really showed. After our brief tour we were whisked out of the building especially quickly since they don’t like you being there any longer than necessary, even when you are a guest of the SG. So that brought my “business” trip to an end and from there it was time to head back down to the airport.
Fortunately a Yellow Line station was just 2 blocks away and it was a lovely afternoon.
The plaza around the entrance to the station was actually pretty cool.
It was even complete with it’s screaming homeless person, ah.. no city is really a city without the screaming homeless person.
The trip back down to the airport was pretty easy, at least for me. A lot of my fellow students opted for car service, which just blew my mind since the Yellow Line is a direct shot to the airport and cost me all of like 3 some dollars, whereas they took about 3x as long (in traffic) to get there and paid like 10x as much money to use the car. Sometimes its painfully obvious how much I do not fit in here. Actually that was a running theme of this trip, how little I fit in with most lawyers, but that is for another post.
Valentino and I chilled for awhile at the airport and got an overpriced Veggie Wrap and Diet Coke, then waited, and waited. Then we got on the airplane, and taxied, and taxied.
But eventually we were up and away, and it was goodbye D.C.!
We also waved to New York City as we passed the Big Apple by (Valentino then wanted an apple).
And while JetBlue didn’t have an apple, Valentino did settle for some Decaf coffee and cookies.
We landed safely back in Boston, sadly we saw no baby whales. From there it was the Silver Line to the Red Line, and then walking home. Along the way I found myself heavily comparing the D.C. and Boston train systems. Immediately after the fact I’m fairly sure D.C. wins, but that might be an immediacy bias, so I’ll revisit that thought later. SB was seepin’ when we got home, but we woke her up and talked for a few minutes while we got all our stuff unpacked. Then we got a snack, had a beer and brought our Taco/Polar Bear “business” trip to a close.
All in all in was a good trip, and while I was initially not really wanted to go giving some recent hard times, I’m actually very, very glad I decided to go. Not only because I would have not gotten reimbursed (which is a factor) but also because I had some amazing experiences that the vast majority of people will never even begin to have.
It was way cool.
In fact, though I still have my struggles like anyone else, my life is pretty awesome. But when you travel with a Polar Bear, two Tyrannosauruses, and a Pig, you are kind of awesome by default.
Until next time,