Supreme Court Spring2011

As part of the political science course “Law, Politics and the Supreme Court,” students and Political Science Associate Professor Joe Kobylka are spending spring break 2011 in Washington, D.C. The students are conducting research on Supreme Court cases at the Library of Congress.

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An extraordinary group

April.jpg An update from April, a junior political science and philosophy major, with a Russian minor, who is researching the Burger Court’s evolution in its stance on the death penalty and how external pressures affected their decisions:

DSC00599%5B1%5D.jpg I don’t think I could have chosen a more perfect group for this trip. Everyone adds so much to the positive and exciting dynamic that is making this experience so incredible. Even though the aim of this class and Library of Congress experience is academic, so far, it has been much more than that. Without any one of my classmates, the trip would lack a special characteristic that each individual provides, and I am so thankful for that.

Beyond that, I can’t believe how much work and effort must have gone into planning this trip. This is such a rare opportunity that all of my classmates and I know we are so fortunate to have.

Yesterday was a whirlwind of getting things straightened out. We met bright and early at the airport at 6:45, although it took a while for our confused little bunch to all get together. We made it through security successfully and finally onto the plane. I started the flight with the full intention of going through much of my research, but halfway through, I decided sleep was extremely necessary, so I took a little nap and woke up just in time for us to land in D.C.! Once we got off the flight, we gathered our luggage and got our metro cards for the week, although that was quite an experience in itself.

Our metro ride on the blue line didn’t seem to take long before we got to our stop and piled out onto the street with all of our bags. We trudged about three-quarters of a mile up a hill and across the highway dodging cars. It was actually much more difficult than it seemed. We got into our hotel and got ourselves situated in our rooms before heading back to the metro for our trip to the Library of Congress.

DSC00611.jpg Once we arrived at the Library of Congress, we went through the process of getting our reader cards and then met with Dr. Kobylka’s friend and director of the library, Jeff Flannery. We were able to peek our heads into the manuscript room before we were sent down into the underground tunnels, where we walked under the Madisonian library to the Jeffersonian library. Inside the second library, we walked to the grand hallway, where there was a room full of tourists taking pictures and then a hallway with the most incredible collection of historical documents as well as a model of Thomas Jefferson’s library, which we discovered was funded by Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys.

Not long after that adventure, we went out the front doors and made our way over to the Supreme Court to take as many pictures in front of the steps as possible in our short amount of time. Our trip back on the metro was full of excitement as we got out at our stop and went on another hike to find a restaurant for dinner, as we realized we had all forgotten to eat lunch. Dr. Kobylka helped us find the perfect restaurant, which was a nice little Italian place with huge plates of incredible pastas. We absolutely stuffed ourselves, while laughing and chatting about anything and everything. I really love this group.

Following dinner, we walked over to the grocery store so we could all grab some personal necessities, and then we followed in line back to the Comfort Inn. All of us dispersed back into our rooms, and I got to work on preparing for the next day.

I can’t believe I actually woke up this morning at 6:30 without any problem. My roommates (Vanessa and Amanda) and I got ourselves ready and headed downstairs for breakfast while planning out our system for the day. Everyone grabbed breakfast as we watched the Japanese crisis on the television. Eventually we all met in the lobby with Dr. Kobylka and headed to the metro with our bags under our arms. Today was the day we started our research.

Once we got to the Library of Congress, Jeff Flannery filed us into a boardroom to give us an information session. After he went through the logistics and had us fill out a few cards, he announced to us that he had a surprise in the folders in front of us on the table. When we read the little tags on top of the folders, we realized they were famous and important documents, such as handwritten letters from Lincoln or Amelia Earhart’s palm print. I don’t think it’s possible to explain the excitement of holding in your hand the actual document from John Hancock to George Washington concerning the Declaration of Independence to the Revolutionary Army.

We were then ushered into the manuscript reading room, where we were issued the first four boxes we each requested. I dived into Brennan’s papers on McGautha v. California and ended the day working on his papers from Furman v. Georgia with a lunch break in the middle at the cafeteria on the sixth floor with Kevin, Vanessa, Amanda and Catherine. By the end of the day, we were exhausted but excited that we had gotten so much accomplished.

DSC00749.jpg Our dinner plans were even more exciting! We went down the street with Jeff to We, the Pizza where we met Stephen Wermiel, the author of Justice Brennan’s biography. He was an incredibly interesting man, who was more than happy to engage in a conversation with each of us about our topics and interests. He shared his experiences with Justice Brennan prior to his passing as we munched on the most delicious pizza ever. When it was time to say goodbye, I grabbed some random woman to take a picture of the group with Mr. Wermiel, and we made our way back to the hotel.

I cannot express how fortunate I feel to be chosen to be a part of this extraordinary group of Political Science majors with a professor who is as passionate about teaching as he is about the subjects. After all the preparation we have gone through the last few months, I can’t believe we’ve begun our week of intense research!

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