In Other Supreme Court News . . .

While the big news today was the denial of all same-sex marriage ban petitions the Court also heard its first argument of the term, Heien v. North Carolina, a Fourth Amendment “reasonable” search case from the home town of Andy Griffith: Mt Airy, North Carolina.

In April, 2009, Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Darisse – pictured above with beard (and dislexically id’d) as he waited in line for a seat in the courtroom this morning – was working “criminal interdiction” on Highway 77 when he pulled over a vehicle for having a stop light out. After asking permission to search the vehicle officers found a baggie of cocaine and the owner of the car, Nicholas Heien, was arrested along with the driver.

It turns out, however, that North Carolina law only requires “a stop lamp on the rear of the vehicle” and since Heien’s car still had one good light the stop was illegal, and the cocaine “fruit of the poisonous tree.”

The question is whether the search was reasonable. After all, most of us would expect two working stop lights to be the law, and were surprised to learn otherwise (at least in NC). On the other hand ignorance of the law is no excuse for most defendants, so why should a police officer be allowed a mistake when enforcing the laws?

Not much has yet been published on today’s argument, and I have to confess that I get most of my information after the fact from what I read. I find it very difficult to draw and at the same time follow the thread of the argument; must be different parts of the brain – plus my wife says I’m hard-of-hearing. I did manage to pick up that Justice Scalia was never satisfied with the answer he got form petitioner’s lawyer, Jeffrey Fisher.

Above is my best drawing of the day, I think. Great subject.

Art Lien

Courtartist is me, Art Lien. I've been sketching the courts since 1976, and for most of that time the U.S. Supreme Court has been my regular beat. I've been working almost exclusively for NBC News since 1980. Courtroom sketching is a form of visual journalism or reportage drawing that is slowly dying out. Where once upon a time news organization each had their own artist covering a story, today a "pool" artist often sketches for all. It is a demanding and stressful discipline where the drawing is often done directly and under tight deadline.

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4 comments on “In Other Supreme Court News . . .
  1. Avatar Anna says:

    I enjoy your sketching Art. Thank you for your dedication on giving us the opportunity to view what you observe in the court room!

    You given people like me opportunity to view what goes on in the Court! A picture or Sketch is like a Thousand Words!!

    With Great Appreciation!!

  2. Art Lien Art Lien says:

    Thank you, Anna!

  3. Avatar Bo says:

    I was interested in the case until I saw your drawings. Now I’m really only interested in your drawings. Your hands and faces are so expressive!

    I’m curious to know a little more about your process. Since time and your work environment are special constraints: how long does a typical sketch take you? What tools do you take into the courtroom everyday that you would consider essential?

    And thank you for sharing these! I think I’ll go check out your archives now.

  4. Art Lien Art Lien says:

    Thank you, Bo. It’s nice to get feedback.

    It’s hard to say how long it takes to complete a sketch. I’m usually working on several at the same time, and the deadline often determines how finished they get. But a good guess is about 20 min. for a simple sketch of maybe one or two figures. A big wide-shot, and by big I only mean 11″x15″, can take a couple hours.

    Lately my drawing materials consist only of a few mechanical pencils, .3 and .5, with 2B or 4B leads, and some watercolors that I apply with a waterbrush (it holds its own supply of water in the handle.

    I hope that answers your questions.

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