BOISE — A light breeze rustled through the patio outside the James D. McClure U.S. Courthouse and Federal Building in Boise, gently moving the large American flag that stood behind a podium and the black-robed judge.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale held court outside on Thursday afternoon, an unusual circumstance, but the only way the court could come up with to safely swear in nearly 40 new U.S. citizens. It was either schedule outdoor ceremonies, or wait for months on end — for people who’d already spent years waiting and working toward their citizenship.
Steve Kenyon, clerk of the court, came up with the idea after seeing a historic photo from the 9th Circuit in 1918, showing a municipal court proceeding in San Francisco taking place in a park — during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. Some of the people in the old photo were wearing masks, Kenyon said; at the Idaho ceremony on Thursday, everyone wore masks.
Fourteen countries were represented among the 37 people becoming U.S. citizens, from Afghanistan to Mexico and China to Peru.
Marta Rupp, 29, has lived in Middleton for almost 10 years; she and her husband have four young kids, and she became a U.S. citizen on Thursday afternoon. She’s from the Dominican Republic, where she met her husband when he was serving a mission. “We got married, and a year later, we moved to Kamiah,” she said with a smile.
She studied for her interview and citizenship proceedings with the help of an app she downloaded. “It was easy because I studied,” she said. “I would listen while cooking, cleaning, and with my kids.”
The whole family gathered on the courthouse patio Thursday to celebrate, with Rupp’s young daughters taking turns holding a small American flag. Dozens of others also came to the courthouse patio for their ceremonies, each with a few of their friends or family members.
Rupp volunteered to lead the group in the Pledge of Allegiance at the close of the first of two ceremonies held Thursday afternoon. “I’m grateful for this country,” she said, “and for all the things it has given me, so I think it was pretty cool to volunteer — an honor.”
The court initially thought this might be the first outdoor court proceeding it had ever held, but it turned out that U.S. Magistrate Judge Mikel Williams held an outdoor citizenship ceremony for more than 100 people at Bronco Stadium in 1990, during the Idaho state centennial.
The court also did a “trial run” a week earlier, swearing in another 20 citizens.
On Thursday, despite the threat of thunderstorms, the weather was warm but just right for first of two ceremonies at 2 and 3 p.m., separated to allow for social distancing. By the second, the clouds were a little closer, and the breeze a little stronger, enough to ruffle hair and blow away loose paper. But it was still conducive weather.
Said Judge Dale, “It’s a beautiful alternative.”
She’s conducted many citizenship ceremonies; the U.S. District Court usually conducts a half-dozen a year in the Treasure Valley, including a large one at the Nampa Civic Center in September, plus another four in Pocatello.
“It’s right up there at the top of the list of the things you can do as a federal judge,” Dale said, “the best and most rewarding.”