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What you need to know about Monday's hearing in the Supreme Court immigration case

When it is; who's arguing; why you can't watch (and what to look for instead).

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether President Obama's 2014 executive actions on immigration, the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program and the expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, are constitutional.

It's a huge case. Politicians, legal experts, and the 4.5 million immigrants who'd be protected from deportation by the programs are all following it closely. And the oral arguments will be the only clue between now and the Supreme Court's ultimate decision (likely to come out in late June) about how the Court will rule.

Most Supreme Court arguments are tough to follow unless you're literally in the courtroom. This one will be more complicated than most. Here's what you need to know.

How can I watch the Supreme Court hearing on United States v. Texas?

Here's the thing: You can't.

The Supreme Court doesn't allow cameras in the courtroom. Nor does it allow computers or cellphones. The only way to follow the proceedings in real time is to be there in person. And unless you're reading this while standing in line outside the Supreme Court building (a line people have been camped out in since Sunday night), you are probably not going to get in to see the oral argument in person.

Everyone else will have to wait a few hours to know exactly what was said. Transcripts are typically made available on the afternoon of the oral argument; for particularly significant cases, like this one, full audio recordings are put on the Supreme Court website that afternoon as well.

All of this raises the question about why the Supreme Court doesn't go the extra step and simply allow cameras. There's an argument to be made that the highest court in the land should be a little more transparent. And that's especially true in cases like this immigration case.

What the Court says Monday is very, very important to the lives of millions of immigrants and their families. Many immigrants whose lives would be affected if DAPA and the expansion of DACA went into effect will be in the courtroom Monday, and many others will be participating in rallies outside. But no courtroom can fit all 4.5 million immigrants who'd be eligible for one of Obama's programs.

When is the argument in the immigration case starting?

The Supreme Court will start the oral argument for United States v. Texas at 10 am. But the morning's session actually starts before that.

The Court doesn't usually release opinions on the same day it's holding oral arguments. But on Friday, the Court announced that it will start Monday's session at 9:30 am Eastern, release at least one opinion at 10 am Eastern, then move to the immigration case.

Because this is so unusual, court watchers assume that the Supreme Court justices must have found something in a current case that urgently needs to be addressed. There are a lot of pending cases, so it's hard to know in advance which one this is. But if you hear news coming out of the Court on Monday morning that isn't about the immigration case, this is why.

The early start is especially weird because the Supreme Court has blocked out much more time than usual to hear arguments on United States v. Texas. Instead of the usual 60 minutes, the justices are going to spend 90 minutes on it. Because the courtroom is closed to electronic devices, that means that full reports from the hearing won't be available until 11:30 am Eastern time at the earliest (and probably later).

Who will be arguing in front of the Supreme Court?

This is the other weird thing about this case. Typically, a lawyer for one side in the case argues for 30 minutes, followed by a lawyer for the other side. But for the immigration case, here's how it breaks down:

  • The federal government (represented by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli) will argue that the Supreme Court should let DAPA and DACA+ go forward, for 35 minutes. Legally speaking, the government is acting as the petitioners — it's the one that appealed the case from the Fifth Circuit Court.
  • The lawyers for a group of unauthorized immigrant women who would benefit from DAPA (represented by Thomas Saenz of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, or MALDEF) will argue that the Supreme Court should let DAPA and DACA+ go forward, for 10 minutes. Legally speaking, they're acting as intervenors in the case.
  • The coalition of states suing the Obama administration (represented by Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller) will argue that the Supreme Court should permanently shut down DAPA and DACA+, for 30 minutes. Legally speaking, they're acting as the respondents in this case.
  • The House of Representatives (represented by Erin Murphy of the law firm Bancroft PLLC) will argue that the Supreme Court should permanently shut down DAPA and DACA+, for 15 minutes. Legally speaking, they're acting as amicus curiae, or friends of the court: The House (thanks to a vote from its Republican majority) was one of several groups on both sides that filed briefs urging the Supreme Court to rule one way or the other, and it's relatively customary for the Court to invite Congress or its members to argue in person when they file a brief.

The range of lawyers arguing Monday represents the range of questions the justices are considering — and the stakes of the case.

On one level, United States v. Texas is a case about when the states can sue the federal government; both Verrilli and Keller are likely to touch on that during their allotted time.

On another level, it's a case about when the executive branch can act on its own, and when it's stepping on the toes of Congress — that's part of the significance of the House getting its own argument time. On yet another level, it's a case about the political battle over President Obama's executive actions on a range of issues during his second term; that's the other significance of the House's participation.

And at the end of the day, it's a case about what happens to millions of unauthorized immigrants during the duration of the Obama presidency, and possibly longer than that. The lawyer representing the women who'd be affected by DACA (whom the case refers to as "Jane Does," because they don't want to reveal their real names) gets the shortest time of any of the lawyers appearing before the Court Monday. But by appearing at all, he's reminding the justices of the real people who are waiting to hear about how the oral argument went, even though they can't watch it themselves.

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