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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At work in the reading room

Brandon.jpg An update from Brandon, a first-year English and political science major, who is researching Justice Blackmun’s shift in his position on federalism between National League of Cities v Usery (1976) and Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority (1985):

Today was our second day in D.C. Despite the fact that we only had two beds in our hotel room and I had to sleep on the floor last night, I still found myself reasonably well-rested when I woke up at 6 in the morning to start the day. After enjoying a bit of breakfast, we hoofed it back to the Metro station and made our way back to Capitol South.

DC41.jpg Since this is my first time in D.C. (and the Eastern seaboard, for that matter), I was a little bit taken aback by the sight of our nation’s Capitol when we walked by. As soon as I got off the train, I could see the Capitol building, both buildings of the Library of Congress, and the Supreme Court building – all just right in front of me. Then, when we got inside the reading room and went through the tutorial process of calling up papers from the Library to study, I was able to see the original piece of paper with Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech from the March on Washington written on it and Alexander Graham Bell’s original sketches of his model for the telephone. It’s astounding to think how much history is here!

Once we got into the reading room, though, it was straight to business. I started reading through Justice Blackmun’s papers on Fry v. United States to get an idea of his stances on federalism, but I had no idea there would be so many notes, memoranda, and draft opinions in each folder. I worked nonstop from the moment we got into the room until 5 PM, and I was so busy I never even thought of taking a break for lunch! I’m a little bit nervous about actually getting all the research done for this project that I need to in just a week, but somehow I have a feeling I’m going to learn plenty.

Then, after the library closed it was time to find dinner. We ate at a pizza place around the corner called “We the Pizza” (the English major in me is in love with that pun, by the way). We were fortunate enough to be joined for dinner by Steve Wermiel, a law professor at American University who just recently finished a biography on Justice Brennan. He was very interested in our research and had no problem telling us all about the process (and difficulties) that surrounded his research. It was definitely a privilege to get to speak to someone who was so well-informed about one of my favorite justices, and I’m definitely looking forward to checking out his book once I get back home (and I’m not just saying that to score brownie points with the American University law school admissions staff).

All in all, today was pretty exhausting (as I’m expecting the larger part of this week to be), but I’m definitely looking forward to getting more work done tomorrow.

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