During oral arguments Wednesday, the justices of the Supreme Court engaged in the intellectual sparring that makes trials there a cornerstone of U.S. democracy.
Only it wasn't an arcane bit of legal minutia that stumped them; it was trying to figure out just how long is 35 feet.
During arguments about the constitutionality of a Massachusetts law that bans protestors from gathering less than 35 feet outside an abortion clinic, the justices were forced to put their spacial-relations skills to the test.
"You know, 35 feet is a ways. It's from this bench to the end of the court. And if you imagine the chief justice as sort of where the door would be, it's most of the width of this courtroom as well. It's -- it's pretty much this courtroom, kind of. That's a lot of space," Justice Elena Kagan said in describing the chamber, a room that measures 81 feet by 93 feet.
"I thought it was two car lengths," Justice Sonia Sotomayor said. "That's, I think, a little less than this courtroom."
"It is an NBA 3-point zone," Deputy Solicitor General Ian H. Gershengorn said, representing the government.
The case was brought by Eleanor McCullen, 77, and others who claim they are not boisterous protestors but only trying to have conversations with women entering clinics.