My friend GiGi motioned for me at the back of the courtroom. She was sitting next to an Asian lady.
"Ask him," she said, pointing to me." He would know."
"They said we can take pictures."
"Yes ma'am. This is the only time cameras and cell phones are allowed in a Federal Courtroom. You may take a picture."
" Will I be able to take a picture when my husband takes the Oath?"
"No ma'am," I said. "They will administer the Oath to everyone at once. But when your husband goes up to receive his Certificate, you can go up and take his picture then."
"That won't be a problem?"
"No ma'am. Absolutely it will not."
"Oh good," she said, obviously relieved. "This is such a happy day. I'm glad I can take a picture. Thank you."
"Thank you. And congratulations."
I suppose I have sung the National Anthem for at least 7 Naturalization Ceremonies. I got this job due to the fact that up until last October I was the best tenor in the Federal Building. Now I'm just the best tenor the United States District Clerk has on speed dial.
It's a fun gig. I try to get there early to avoid the jam at the security point by the entrance. If a Color Guard is there, I go through the drill with them. Unless, it's the Marine Junior ROTC from Catholic High. With them, "just like at the ball game boys. The flag is presented and we do the Anthem." suffices.
Usually, the Clerk takes me back to chambers to shake hands with the Judge before Court is convened. Friday's ceremony was presided over by United States Magistrate Judge Beth Deere. We go to the same church. Last month's ceremony was run by United States Bankruptcy Judge Audrey Evans. She lives down the street from me. I used to be scared to death of Federal Judges. Now I pretty much know them all. This is all pretty cool.
Yesterday, as I sat on a bench near the Bench waiting for the show to start, it occurred to me that people that hate the the government would do well to see one of these ceremonies. Of course, it also occurred to me that a bigot who hates the government (and they sometimes are one and the same) would probably be alarmed to see so many Asians, Hispanics and Arabic people assembled in one spot.
To some of these lunatics, the government is represented by a Muslim illegal immigrant who is trying to take their guns and do away with Medicare. If the average Tea Party wing nut were to attend a Naturalization Ceremony, assuming they could get through the security point without packing a gun, they would see something else: the entire magisteria of civil authority in the service of all manner of people from distant shores. In the Courtroom Friday I saw representatives of the military, law enforcement, the goddamn Postal Service even and elected representatives. The Courtroom Security Officers enter. Unlike the average day in Court, they aren't all tightassed.
A Federal Judge appears.
"The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, United States Magistrate Judge Beth Deere, presiding in now in session. All those that have business before this Honorable Court, draw near, and you shall be heard. God save this Honorable Court and God save the United States of America."
I always watch my new fellow citizens as the Judge is announced. Some of them smile. Some are transfixed. Some are in tears. The Judge has taken the Bench. They are about to become Americans by rule of law.
I thought of something else as well while sitting out there on my little bench. Weirdly enough, I thought of Tim McVeigh. Rather, I thought of the spoken by the Judge when he condemned McVeigh to death.
The judge said something along the lines of "The Government is not some abstraction that looms over us. The Government is people just like you and me."
The Government is people like you and me. And last Friday around 50 people got to be part of it. Just like you and me. Just like the Tea Party.
Like the lady said. Such a happy day.