Someone has stormed the Capitol, looted the Treasury, eviscerated the Judiciary, and declared sex illegal. No, no, not Ted Cruz. This happened thousands of years ago, and the culprit was Lysistrata. But no crime is so ancient that it cannot attract the attention of Washington lawyers, and thus on November 24th Lysistrata was brought before a three-judge panel of the Athenian High Court, chaired by the Hon. Samuel Alito, to answer for her crimes.
The procedural posture was a little odd: Lysistrata had already been acquitted, and the City of Athens’ appeal appeared to be double jeopardy – a point her crack legal team, Christina Sarchio of Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe LLP and Lori McGill of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP touched upon lightly. (The applicability of the Bill of Rights was open to debate.) But the City of Athens’ fierce team from Steptoe & Johnson – Stewart Baker and Pantelis Michalopoulos – insisted that the Magistrate had been illegally dragooned into giving an acquittal to charges of murder, treason, conspiracy, theft and conversion, thus making the appeal possible.
The high court having given certiorari, there was nothing to do but battle it out. Baker tucked into it first. We all know that Lysistrata’s principal strategy was to get women to deny sex to men while war raged, but Baker had a different focus: the raid conducted by the old women of Athens on the Acropolis to seize the Treasury, at Lysistrata’s instigation. Worse than no sex, Baker argued, the Athenians had no money with which to wage their war.
No sooner had Baker finished his oration than Justice Alito redirected the conversation to the underlying issue. “I want to get this on the table first,” the panel’s chair said. “Is this prosecution part of a war on women?”
Alito and his two colleagues, DC Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Brett Kavanaugh and District Court of Appeals Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, followed the tradition of Greek Old Comedy by integrating contemporary elements into the narrative. The colloquies between judges and lawyers contained a surprising number of references to the war on terror, the Affordable Care Act and a philosopher-king named Antonius Scaliopolus, and at one point Kavanaugh – a veteran of the Shakespeare Theatre’s Courtroom – boiled things down to “the essential question – what would RBG do?” He then presented a beautifully-drawn sketch of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who usually presides at these proceedings but missed this one because of a minor medical procedure.
Michalopoulos, wearing a suit so impressive that it could have won several misdemeanor trials all by itself with no lawyer inside, addressed himself to Alito’s question by citing the many ways in which Athens safeguarded, and gave dignity to, the status of women. Michalopoulos pointed out that unlike other states of the time, Athens educated women and allowed them to speak out on public issues.
Alas, Sarchio rejoined, the women in Athens did not have the right to vote – one of the factors which motivated Lysistrata’s campaign of civil disobedience in the first place. And, McGill observed, the charges which the High Court was now considering were never articulated in this way by the trial Magistrate. In any event, Lysistrata was acquitted at trial, and so should be free of further judicial attack.
Baker, in rebuttal, argued that Lysistrata intimidated the Magistrate with fierce words and threats, and so the trial itself should be considered void, and the matter remanded for a new trial. But the writing was on the wall. “I can’t believe I’m arguing for more sex,” he said, “and I’m losing.”
The defendant herself was in the Courtroom, looking remarkably well-preserved for someone roughly 2,450 years old. So was a mean-looking Athenian guard, wearing a helmet with a gigantic bristly plume, good for intimidation and for scrubbing those hard-to-reach places in the high Athenian ceilings. The Embassy of Greece, which sponsored the production, was also represented.
Incidentally, if you’re interested in the record below, it’s here, with Norman Lindsay illustrations.
The Athenian High Court withdrew to chambers for a few minutes to deliberate while Dr. Norman B. Sandridge, Howard University Associate Professor of Classics, talked about ancient Athenian legal procedures with moderator Abbe Lowell of Chadbourne & Parke PLLP. Consistent with those procedures (Sandridge said that Athenian juries could number five hundred) ushers collected ballots from the packed house: red chips for Athens, blue for Lysistrata.
The Judges came back with a divided verdict: for Lysistrata on the capital crimes, but for a new trial on the theft and conversion charges. However, the ginormous jury had the final word, and it was all Lysistrata. The war – on terror, on women, against the Spartans and the Peloponesian League – was over. Lysistrata had won again.