An invitation for a cocktail party honoring lawyers, especially highly skilled ones who are about to argue one of the most momentous cases of the year—the next Supreme Court abortion case—tends to read like a legal document. “Guests are invited to come and go as they please,” noted a message from the Center for Reproductive Rights, a legal-advocacy nonprofit. The party was held in the kitchen at the center’s offices, in a high-rise in the South Street Seaport. The two lead attorneys on June Medical Services, LLC v. Gee (not quite as catchy as Roe v. Wade) whom attendees had come to meet—Julie Rikelman and T. J. Tu—talked with guests while such phrases as “Bogus sham laws!” and “Second-class citizens!” ricochetted around the kitchen island.
The two lawyers have been working seventy-hour weeks on their case, which will come before the newly conservative Court in March. “My husband would say I do nothing else successfully in my life at the moment,” Tu, who wore square spectacles, said. He clerked for Sonia Sotomayor in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and was a co-counsel on a 2014 Supreme Court case on false advertising. He said that he’d reviewed twenty-seven amicus briefs over Thanksgiving, while cooking dinner for thirteen people. Rikelman, who has shoulder-length brown hair and was dressed all in navy, has a ten-year-old and an eleven-year-old, who will turn twelve just before the abortion case begins. “So I’m going to have to figure out how to host a birthday party for her and then go to the Supreme Court,” she said.
The two discussed Supreme Court swag—Tu keeps the commemorative quill that he was given, after the 2014 case, in his medicine chest—and the SCOTUS fashion police. “We have to wear a blue or gray suit,” Rikelman said. “There’s an entire booklet about it. It gives you a lot of detailed instructions.” Even female attorneys who are just there to observe can wear pants only if they wear a matching jacket; furs and hats are forbidden.
The case, which contests a 2014 Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, resembles a 2016 Supreme Court case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, concerning a nearly identical Texas law, which the Center for Reproductive Rights won, in a 5–3 decision. (Pro-choice advocates call these “TRAP” laws, for “targeted regulation of abortion providers,” because they are a roundabout way to chip away at abortion rights by throwing up logistical roadblocks.) The only difference this time is the composition of the Court. It will be the first abortion case since Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch were appointed.
“It could be a turning point,” Nancy Northup, the center’s president and C.E.O., said, adding that, if the Court allows the law to go into effect, it would close all but one clinic in Louisiana and openly defy the ruling from three years ago. “They’re essentially saying, Roe is still in the books, but anything goes.” She paused. “It’s a lot of pressure.”
An hour into the party, only one bottle of wine was empty. A plate of cookies was untouched. “This is super tame,” Northup said. She insisted that the center’s parties are usually livelier: “Competitive in the courtroom translates to competitive on the karaoke stage, competitive at costuming, competitive at dancing.”
Across the room, two colleagues solemnly discussed the news. “The impeachment is really taking attention away,” Kelly Krause, the center’s press officer, said, adding that she’d had trouble getting reporters to focus on the case.
“If you take the word ‘abortion’ out of it, it’s a rule-of-law case that I think is very simple,” Jenny Ma, a senior staff attorney, said. They changed the subject to the center’s upcoming villain-themed office party.
“There’s an award for best hero-villain combination,” Krause said. “You could be R.B.G.” A guest suggested that Krause could be Kavanaugh. No one laughed.
“The state team is going as the characters on ‘Schitt’s Creek,’ ” Ma said. “They’re not paying attention to the theme.”
Past a treadmill desk and cubicles plastered with stickers that bore messages like “#NotNormal RESIST,” near the gender-neutral bathroom, was a printer with a photo of Justice Ginsburg taped on it. “All the office printers are named after badass women,” Krause said. There is a Beyoncé printer, a Michelle Obama printer, and also a nonconformist Nemo printer.
By 7:30 P.M., two more bottles had been drunk. But this party was just a warmup. “We always do a rally on the Supreme Court steps,” Tu said. “It’s going to be thirty degrees.” Inside, of course, he will have to wear blue or gray. “But once we’re outside,” he said, “I can put my pussy hat on.” ?