Charleston law student gets glimpse of historic hearing

Supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage demonstrated outside the Supreme Court Tuesday as arguments on California’s Proposition 8 were heard in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

Welcome to the line. That’s how Nick Shalosky was greeted Monday night as he signed the list to try to get into Tuesday’s historic Supreme Court hearing.

The greeters were in lawn chairs, wrapped in layers of sleeping bags, covered with tarps.

They had been there since Thursday, holding places through the snow, at the front of a line that now stretched way back.

“They looked like they were dead,” Shalosky said. He didn’t think he had a chance to get in the hearing chamber. And it was already fiercely cold.

But he didn’t budge. The equality activist who is a third-year student at Charleston School of Law had planned this for weeks.

He ended up briefly at the very back of the huge, ornate hall, closer to the nine justices than he could have imagined, surrounded by the nation’s most prominent attorneys, politicians and activists.

“It was daunting,” he said. “It was awesome to see the process itself. No matter what happens, this is going to be in the history books. I wish everybody who wants to see it could.”

Getting there was nearly as daunting. The Supreme Court has only about 250 public seats, and they’re first-come, first-served.

Shalosky toughed out the night, in his own sleeping bag wrapped in every layer of clothes he had. Tuesday morning, he filed slowly down a gantlet of media and protesters on both sides of the volatile issue, shoulder to shoulder to shoulder.

Then he turned from the court steps to look out at a mass of humanity. People filled the steps of the Capitol across the street; people were lined down both sides of the street.

He’ll be back in line today, hoping for another chance.

“He told me when they set the date, ‘I’m getting a ticket,’” said law school Prof. Debra Gammons. “He’s a strong student who believes in equality.”

Shalosky managed only a three-minute “visit” spot in the chamber, but heard enough of the “standings” argument to think the justices are skeptical and might dismiss the case because the plaintiffs hadn’t shown they had grounds to bring it.

That would be disappointing, he said: So many people on both sides of the issue want a decision from the court.

How big a deal is this? Well, Shalosky was roused Tuesday by Capitol police at 5:30 a.m. in “the worst kind of cold,” he said. When the line began to move an hour later, the people in the front wore nice clothes. The wrapped-up people had moved to the curb to wait for today’s line to form. The rumor was they get paid $30 per hour to hold spots.

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.

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