WASHINGTON, D.C. — The most expensive ticket to “The Book of Mormon” on Broadway: $477. The face value of a great seat for the Super Bowl: $1,250. Guaranteed seats to watch the U.S. Supreme Court hear this week’s same-sex marriage cases: about $6,000.
Tickets to the two arguments that begin today are technically free. But getting them requires lining up hours or days ahead, paying someone else to, or being invited by one of the justices. The first people got in line Thursday, bringing the price of saving a seat to around $6,000.
For some, putting a value on the seats is meaningless.
“It’s just not possible,” said Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay-rights organization, which began employing two people to stand in line Thursday.
The court will hear arguments today over California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8. On Wednesday, the court will take up the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 federal law that defines marriage as being between one man and one woman. Supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage say the cases are so potentially historic that they want to be inside the courtroom to watch, no matter what the cost in time or money.
Jean Podrasky said she and her female partner will be in attendance to hear the highly anticipated case on Prop. 8. But how did the San Francisco couple get seats? From none other than Podrasky’s first cousin, Chief Justice John Roberts.
Part of the reason the seats are so coveted is the court doesn’t allow TV broadcasts of its arguments, so coming in person is the only way to see the justices at work. The court has said it will release transcripts of the hearings as well as audio recordings roughly two hours after each case ends, but advocates say that’s no substitute for being there.
Seats, meanwhile, are at a premium because there aren’t that many. The courtroom seats about 500, but seats are reserved for court staff, journalists, and guests of the justices and lawyers arguing the case. After those people are seated, there will be about 100 seats Tuesday for lawyers who are members of the Supreme Court bar and at least 60 seats for the public. An additional 30 seats for the public will rotate every three to five minutes. Tickets for all those seats are given on a first-come, first-served basis.
For those willing to pay to get in, several Washington services will hold a person’s place in line. One company charges $36 per hour, another $50, meaning the cost of a five-day line stander comes in at $6,000.
John Winslow, the operations manager of Linestanding.com, which like most other line-standing services also is a courier service, said his service would be holding places for 40 to 50 clients, a number of them lawyers. His group held about 35 places in line for the health care arguments last year, he said. Most people, he said, are starting their line stander for the Prop. 8 case 24 hours before, so they’ll spend $864 to attend.
“Health care was more about public policy and the direction that the country was going politically, but this really affects people in a personal way,” Linestanding.com owner Mark Gross said of the Prop. 8 case.