He took the day off from his job as a Federal Express manager in Jersey City to be at the court’s opening argument of the term; he plans vacation days around important cases and court milestones. He spent the weekend in Washington so he could be at the court’s marble plaza by 5:30 a.m. to ensure himself a spot as one of the first 50 in line.
“This will be the 20th year, and I’ve only missed two first Mondays,” Blackman-Harris said last month in an interview at a Jersey City diner. “One I was sick, and the other one I was closing on my house.”
To ask why he fell in love with the Supreme Court is to receive a puzzled response about why everyone else has not.
“Every American should see the Supreme Court in action,” he said. “Anyone going to the court will see we have a magnificent array of talent on that court.”
For Blackman-Harris, a self-described “C-SPAN junkie,” the fascination began with a trip to Washington to see the Capitol. Not much was going on, and a guide suggested that he go across the street.
“I could see Thurgood Marshall on the bench,” he realized. “I was hooked. That voice! His voice just echoed off the marble. It was awesome.”
The first opinion he remembers reading was 1992’s
Planned Parenthood v. Casey
, which upheld the abortion rights established in
Roe v. Wade
“I had never read an opinion before, but it was in the newspaper — it must have taken up four pages,” Blackman-Harris said. “I couldn’t understand a lot of it, because, you know, it had a lot of legalese in it and it referred to cases, and if you don’t know the cases, you have to go back and look them up.”
Now, he speaks of the Casey “plurality opinion” and refers to “the old chief,” which is how court insiders refer to longtime Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who died in 2005. He reads opinions online and listens to the audio recordings of the court’s oral arguments.
An immigrant falls in love
Blackman-Harris, 45, has the zeal of a convert. He was born in Barbados and accompanied his family to New Jersey when he was in high school. He said he became a citizen in 1992.
“I got really interested in American history in high school,” he said. “I find the American story to be a fascinating one — love it, love it!”
The attraction of the court, he said, is its authority.
“I love the finality,” he said. “When the court speaks, that’s the final answer to the question. Now, that’s not really true, but it is the answer to that question.”
Blackman-Harris has attended the first appearance of each new justice since Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993, with the exception of Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. (Alito’s first appearance came in a January session of the court.)
He was there when Justice John Paul Stevens, then the court’s senior justice, escorted new Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. down the steps on Roberts’s first day, and he notes that he had to make a special trip to see Justice Sonia Sotomayor.