Also At The Supreme Court This Week: The Case Of The Sidewalk Snafu

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer speaks to reporters outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday, after oral arguments on Arizona's immigration law. At left, in brown and wearing sunglasses, is NPR's Nina Totenberg. i i

hide captionArizona Gov. Jan Brewer speaks to reporters outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday, after oral arguments on Arizona's immigration law. At left, in brown and wearing sunglasses, is NPR's Nina Totenberg.

Charles Dharapak/AP
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer speaks to reporters outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday, after oral arguments on Arizona's immigration law. At left, in brown and wearing sunglasses, is NPR's Nina Totenberg.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer speaks to reporters outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday, after oral arguments on Arizona's immigration law. At left, in brown and wearing sunglasses, is NPR's Nina Totenberg.

Charles Dharapak/AP

For a case that is about show-me-your-papers, it was more than a little odd that the Supreme Court police — for the first time anyone could recall — asked reporters on the Supreme Court plaza Wednesday to show their IDs to get into a roped-off area where TV cameras routinely set up.

It was even stranger when police then refused to allow lawyers and principals involved in the case to come over to the microphones. Even Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer was barred from the press gaggle. Finally, after a near insurrection from the press corps, the court cops relented.

Truth be told, I led that insurrection, but I had plenty of help from colleagues. Afterward, I asked the Supreme Court's press officer, Kathy Arberg, to find out what went wrong. Arberg, I should note, was responsible for undoing the police orders so that Gov. Brewer and others could actually come to the microphones.

She got back to me Thursday with the results of her investigation. As with all such things, the snafu was even weirder than you could have imagined.

It seems that when Gov. Brewer's staff met with the Supreme Court police in advance of the court argument on Arizona's immigration law, Brewer's staff said that the governor wanted to hold a press conference afterward — and that she wanted to hold it on the sidewalk.

Now, for some reason not known to mankind, the mention of the words "press conference" did not trigger the court cops into calling the court's press officer. And for reasons that nobody can divine even now, the police on the plaza thought the sidewalk press conference meant that not only Brewer was going to the sidewalk, but so were the lawyers from the many organizations who had filed briefs in the case. Therefore, nobody could go to the usual gaggle place where the cameras were set up on the nearby plaza.

Now comes the really silly part. Protesters are not allowed on the plaza. They are permitted to be on the sidewalk. So the sidewalk was mobbed with demonstrators for and against the Arizona law. It was not a safe place to be for an obviously nervous Gov. Brewer.

Meanwhile, I, along with colleagues, was having a conniption fit. Fortunately, Arberg, the press officer, had sent one of her assistants out to the plaza. I grabbed him and in less than fully polite terms, told him to call Arberg, which he did. She promptly called Tim Dolan, the deputy Supreme Court police chief, and within minutes, the previous orders were reversed.

A rather rattled Gov. Brewer, apparently relieved to be out of the melee on the sidewalk, came to the relative safety of the press stakeout, followed by members of Congress, the leaders of interest groups, and the like.

I am pleased to report that at the stakeout on the Supreme Court plaza, the only screaming was from cameramen yelling, "Get outta my shot."

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