Last week I had my first argument at the D.C. Circuit. Upon entering the court building, I felt like a sheltered child of privilege making her first ignorant foray into a third world country.* The courtrooms at the Federal Circuit are gorgeous. Even 203 is an interior design masterpiece compared to the best courtroom at the DC Circuit. It feels like traffic court or Judge Judy. It is in the same building as the district court, so there are jurors and spectators in hoodies walking around the hallways being grumpy, and most people are not wearing suits. The entry guards took my phone away like I was some sort of savage. Now how am I supposed to live-tweet this experience?
Once in the courtroom, the CSOs told people that no part of their shoes can touch the benches, so everyone had to sit with both feet flat on the floor at all times. You were not allowed to cross your legs at the knee, lest your shoe brush the back of the bench in front of you. Then, a CSO actually yelled at the clerks for not going immediately to their assigned seats. Apparently, only one clerk per judge is allowed in the clerk seating area, and the rest of them have to sit with the observers, and if they need to switch when the cases switch, the first clerk has to completely exit before the next clerk can enter. Only clerks in the clerk seating area are allowed to have any papers or work materials of any kind. Finally, rather than the dignified “all rise” that you get when Federal Circuit judges enter the room, the DC Circuit bailiff yelled “everybody stand.” I felt like I was in detention. I have no idea whether my experience was representative, but I am interested in getting the stories from other Fed. Cir. clerks that also have “real circuit” experience to weigh in, possibly over poker cards tonight? I bet the DC Circuit clerks don’t even have poker…
But another thing. Our panel had two women. Fascinatingly, opposing counsel consistently called both women “sir” in his responses to their questions. I found it jarring at first, but then I decided I really like it. I don’t know if “ma’am” has some subliminal misogynistic undertone in my mind because of the historically inferior role of women in the world, or if I just like the sound of a man calling a woman sir, but either way it seems more reverent.
Ma’am is what the lady at the DMV calls you when her jaded dead brain has had enough of your bullet-proof explanation for why the agency’s waiting policy violates habeas corpus. Sir is what you say (twice) when you are complying with an order from a superior officer.
Ma’am is what the DC commissioner calls you when he refuses to listen to your scientifically rigorous recommendation about improvements to the Department of Transportation’s snow management policy. Sir is what you call the president. Ma’am feels like a backhanded sign of respect, while sir sounds more genuine. Maybe it’s just that I don’t get respect in most situations, and after a few months of being called sir, it will sound equally condescending.
Poker tonight will be at the Kelly house, [———–]. Get there at 8pm. Bring money, beer, and Dolin repellant. RSVP, and call me “sir.”
* Is “third world country” no longer a PC term? I think you are supposed to say “developing nation,” but what if it isn’t developing? What if it’s getting worse?