Technical difficulties at the Supreme Court

Arguing before the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court is a nerve rattling experience in itself. But today, an attorney making his case before the high court had some additional distractions.

carothfeldCharles Rothfeld, counsel at the Washington office of Mayer Brown who argued for the petitioner in the case Fitzgerald v. Barnstable School Committee, had some technical difficulties to deal with.

When Rothfeld walked up to the podium, before he could begin his argument Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked him to raise the podium level to bring the microphones closer to him. Seeming a bit puzzled, Rothfeld looked to the side of the podium as Ginsburg directed him to a small lever. He cranked the lever, and podium rose a few inches.

“I’ve never used this before,” said Rothfeld, who was arguing his 23rd case before the Court.

“Now we can’t see you,” quipped Justice Antonin Scalia, drawing laughs from the crowd.

“But we can hear you,” Ginsburg said.

Then, minutes into Rothfeld’s argument that Title IX should not preempt §1983 sexual harassment claims arising in school settings, the Court’s audio system began making intermittent loud, popping noises.

“I hope I’m not responsible for that,” Rothfeld said when one such noise interrupted him mid-sentence.

“We’ll give you an extra 10 seconds,” said Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., drawing more laughs.

“And believe me, I’ll use them,” Rothfeld replied.

At the end of the hour, after Rothfeld finished his rebuttal, Roberts acknowledged the distractions. “Mr. Rothfeld, I apologize for the malfunctions,” Roberts said before recessing the Court.

Chief Pronunciation: Speaking of the Fitzgerald argument, when Chief Justice Roberts called the case, he pronounced the name of the school committee “Barns-TABLE.” Anyone who has spent any time in Massachusetts (DC Dicta included) knows that the town in actually pronounced “BARNS-tuh-bul.” But perhaps out of respect for the Chief Justice of the United States, no one corrected him – not even bench mates Justice David Souter, who is a Massachusetts native, nor Justice Stephen Breyer, who formerly served as Chief Judge of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.


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