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Wednesday’s oral argument in Arthur Andersen v. United States was the final argument of the Supreme Court term — and one of the best, in terms of quality of argument. Both Latham & Watkins’ Maureen Mahoney and Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben made forceful arguments, though the general betting afterwards gave Mahoney the edge. But which was the hottest ticket of the term’s oral arguments? That honor goes to MGM Studios v. Grokster, the high-interest, high-stakes copyright dispute over peer-to-peer downloading of movies and music. Lawyers who attended the arguments — or tried to — are still talking about the extreme tactics used to get seats inside the courtroom the morning of March 29. One D.C. lawyer who got to the Court at 7:25 a.m. — usually plenty of time for an argument beginning at 10 a.m. — arrived to an unusual sight: Close to 40 line-sitters (or line-standers), paid to stand on line for later-arriving lawyers who wanted seats in the section reserved for members of the Supreme Court bar. The word along the line was that the line-sitters had been there since 4 a.m. or earlier and were being paid $100 or more by the Motion Picture Association of America; a report in Wired News suggested some were paid as much as $500. How could this lawyer tell the people standing on line were non-lawyers? “Put it this way: They did not look like lawyers about to go into the Supreme Court,” said the lawyer, who did not want his name used. Sure enough, a few minutes after he arrived, there was a “changing of the guard,” as the real seat-seeking lawyers showed up and took their spots in line, replacing the line-sitters. The much better-dressed newcomers appeared to be lawyers for media companies, among others. An hour later when all the lawyers were allowed to come into the Court, it turned out that the lawyers who had hired line-sitters took up all the seats in the bar section of the Court. All others had to sit in the lawyers’ lounge, which is not far from the courtroom, but offers no view of the oral arguments; only the audio is piped in. “It didn’t seem very fair,” one of the lawyers who ended up in the lounge grumbled. “It’s hard to tell which justice is speaking.” MPAA spokesman John Feehey confirmed that his organization had hired line-sitters for the argument, but he did not know how many or at what cost. He did say he was sure that MPAA was not the only organization that did it. “Line-sitting is a tradition almost as old as the Supreme Court,” said Feehey. “It happens all over Washington,” including the Court. One lawyer who described the scene on the Volokh Conspiracy blog suggested Court police seemed uncertain about how to deal with the line-sitters. A Court official, asked if there was a policy on the subject, said it was impossible to determine who is a paid sitter and who is not. There is no Court rule explicitly prohibiting line-sitting, but the Court’s guide for visitors, available on its Web site, offers this exhortation: “Please do not hold a space in … line for others who have not yet arrived.” Said the lawyer who was shut out by the line-sitters, “Some of us thought of complaining” based on that sentence in the visitor’s guide, “but I’m not sure if that’s the kind of complaint the Court would want to hear.”

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