Students take road trip to Supreme Court hearing

March 24, 2008Duke Law News

March 24, 2008 — Road trips are a staple of the college and graduate school experience. At some point, either an overwhelming desire to “get out of town” or the intrigue of a particular destination lures one or more students away from their studies for a refreshing jaunt to any number of locations: the beach, the ski slopes, or the city. But a road trip to the Supreme Court? Different, perhaps, but no less exciting for a couple of 2Ls at Duke Law School.

On March 16, the opportunity to see a historic case argued before the nation’s High Court was the impetus behind a 514-mile road trip for Robert Giddings and LaToya Edwards. The case was District of Columbia v. Heller, one concerning a Washington, D.C. handgun ban with implications for an interpretation of the Second Amendment, an issue untouched by the Court for nearly 70 years.

“I have been following this case since Parker v. District of Columbia was handed down by the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in March of last year,” Giddings said. “I am very interested in gun-rights, constitutional issues, and appellate advocacy. There was no way I could miss seeing 12 of the greatest legal minds in the nation — the nine Justices, and the attorneys, Paul Clement, Walter Dellinger, and Alan Gura — wrestling with such an interesting issue, almost unrestrained by precedent.”

Arriving at the Supreme Court at noon on Monday to begin their camp out, Giddings said he and Edwards were numbers 26 and 27 in the line that had begun forming on Sunday night. The first 50 in line were ultimately allowed in to see the entirety of the argument; others rotated in for 3-minute segments.

“It was unbelievable to see how many people were willing to brave the cold and actually sleep outside of the court just for the opportunity to see and hear the issue hashed out in person,” Edwards said. “When the line hit about 110 people, I started taking pictures, but even then I couldn't visually capture the humor of seeing scores of sleeping bags lined up in front of the Court's Greek columns.”

Giddings said the number of people in line did not surprise him, nor did the distances from which they had traveled to be there. “There were a lot of very interesting people, ranging from the Second Amendment author and activist, Alan Korwin, to the creator of gunmap.org,” Giddings said. “We also met many of the original co-plaintiffs from Parker v. District of Columbia, who originally filed suit against the District of Columbia to challenge the District’s gun laws.”

Though sleeping on concrete in 30-degree weather was less than desirable, both Edwards and Giddings said the experience was certainly worth it. “In general, I advocate strict gun control and was not ashamed of sharing that with others,” Edwards said. “What made the trip truly worthwhile for me was having my views challenged and being forced to think deeply about what the law should be and what values we as a nation need to prioritize. Ultimately, it is this sort of discussion that makes us better scholars and advocates.”

Giddings agreed. “The main thing I learned from the arguments is that this case presents a complex issue involving everything from deducing the intent of our Constitution’s drafters to determining the length of time it takes to remove a trigger lock,” he said. “While this case primarily addresses whether the D.C.’s ban on handguns is constitutionally permissible, the decision’s ramifications are much more complex.

“The dialogue I had with many of those in line made me think more deeply about the Second Amendment, the legal and policy problems posed by this case, and the best solution to those problems,” he continued. “I’m guessing it will take years for the High Court and lower courts, state legislatures, and Congress to navigate through these choppy waters: District of Columbia v. Heller is only the tip of the iceberg.”
Other News