By Stephanie A. Huang, Esq. ‐ February 9, 2015
Walking in to the California Supreme Court in Sacramento is a bit daunting, even if you are not the one arguing before the Justices.
The State Capitol is a lively, bustling metropolis: in a sea of 3‐piece business suits and briefcases, all seemingly knowing which one‐way street to access, one can easily feel like a lone ant that has lost sight of its brethren. It does not help that once you find the building you are seeking, they immediately walk you through a metal detector, search your belongings in an x‐ray machine, and confiscate your electronics.
However, after this initial jolt, you are soothed by the lovely grandeur of the building and the calm sense of history and purpose that adorns every picture and archive throughout the halls. This sense of awe continues as you enter the oral argument room itself, though it is much smaller than expected. Note that if you are late and it is a full house, you must wait outside the courtroom until a seat opens up. And this could take a full hour. This courtroom, for all its importance, is no bigger than the average courtroom, though there are seven Justices who sit on high at their large slightly U‐shaped table, instead of the normal one in the Superior Court or even three at the appellate level. The counsel table is perhaps only a few feet further from the Bench than its counterpart in the Superior Court. The “audience”, however, sits in concentric semi‐circles, much like an amphitheater, giving the whole room a very “round” appearance and putting the attorneys and Justices in somewhat of a “performance” position.
And what an interesting performance it is! No canned speeches are tolerated in this arena: the Justices all jump right in with their questions, and the attorney must respond thoroughly if he does not want a second Justice following up on a particular issue. All seven Justices appear attentive and engaged throughout the arguments: the two new Justices, Honorable Mariano‐Florentino Cuéllar and Honorable Leondra R. Kruger, are not shy wallflowers either and ask some of the most perceptive questions.
Interestingly enough about the two new Justices, Justice Cuéllar somehow managed to wear a look of intense surprise throughout the entire session, while Justice Kruger’s soothing and peaceful voice could calm the most anxious attorney’s heart no matter how difficult a question she asked. Meanwhile, the older Justices Chin, Werdegar, and Corrigan tended to say less than the others, offering up a question mainly to clarify a point. Chief Justice Cantil‐Sakauye was very practical and got down to the heart of the matter right away, while Justice Liu liked to take a more theoretical and sometimes philosophical approach.
For all the preparation that goes into a California Supreme Court case, once the timer starts on the podium, you are really flying by the seat of your pants on automatic pilot. The adrenaline rush hardly stops with the timer, though when the Chief Justice cuts you off, your time in the spotlight is done. Luckily, one can always shake off the extra energy by going for a brisk walk around Old Town Sacramento, grabbing a bite to eat at one of the many eateries surrounding the Capitol, or even petting the Clydesdale horses standing on duty patrol at the nearby park with the local police force.