Those of us who love history are usually only able to experience it through books, movies or television. I had an opportunity to be an eyewitness last night here in Washington, D.C. Early in the day I watched the arrival of the hearse bearing the casket of Justice Antonin Scalia at the Supreme Court on television with my wife. She said at the time that being lawyers we should go to the Supreme Court to pay our respects. As with what happens to most of us, our day began to slip away and we had not found time to travel up to Capitol Hill to the Court. Mid-afternoon a dear friend called and asked if we would accompany her to a movie. The movie turned out to be “Race” the new release about Jesse Owens, the great Olympian. The painful history of race relations in the U.S. were contrasted with the ghastly specter of Nazi racism. It is an uplifting movie, but not always easy to watch.
When the movie was over it was dark and quite cold. As we walked back to the house my wife said, “Let’s go to the Court.” It was already 6:30 and since the movie house is only two blocks from our house we hadn’t really dress warmly. There was a momentary urge in me to just bag it. The Supreme Court was scheduled to close at eight o’clock and was 25 minutes away by cab. Better instincts took over we jumped in a cab. When we arrived at the Court we saw that there was still a very long line going up the street beside the Court. We began searching for end of the line and to our dismay it simply went and went and went. We walked at least five long blocks before we found the end of the line. Every instinct in me said, “Wow, too cold and too late. Let’s go home.” But there was great comradery in the line and quickly we lost the will to leave. Two hours later (they extended to hours until 10:00) we were inside the Supreme Court. We made new friends. In two hours of blistering wind and cold our little cadre of line dwellers talked about everything in the world. Now you might think that the conversations would reflect the tone of the rhetoric of today’s political climate, but it did not. The collegial atmosphere among an extremely diverse group of citizens was refreshing. It was clear that there was a wide spectrum of political opinions represented, but we were a group of citizens united in our quest to pay homage to a man who had served his country and to reaffirm the institution that is the Supreme Court. One side note is that there was a pronounced absence of people texting and talking on their cell phones. We were talking to each other as humans. The politicians will battle over replacement of the Justice, but the government will survive. Why do I say that? Because of that line of Americans coming together as we always have in death and tragedy to reaffirm our form of government. Witnessing history gives you the opportunity to understand that concept better than any hour of MSNBC or Fox news. Don’t miss being a part of history. It will change you for the better.