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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Big change in plans

Amanda.jpg An update from Amanda, a junior majoring in Spanish, international studies, political science and anthropology who is investigating the incorporation of the Bill of Rights to the states through the 14th Amendment:

Day two at the Library of Congress was not as successful as the first. I definitely learned some of the pitfalls of primary source research. Several of the resources that I was planning to draw on were much more sparse than I expected, to the point that I had to redesign and redirect my research on the fly. As frustrating as it was (and I definitely panicked), it was a really valuable experience that has taught me how to cope with roadblocks in research.

My original topic was incorporation of the bill of rights to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment before Adamson v. California in 1947, which led me into cases stretching all the way back to the 1800s. After spending my Wednesday running into dead ends and trying to decipher 19th-century calligraphy in the documents, I concluded that it would be best to reverse the direction of the timeline guiding my research. Now, instead of dealing with cases that show the formation of methods and theories of incorporation, I am looking at the application of those theories in the period after Adamson. That means new cases, new justices and new questions, but today was a new day and I was able to start over.

Although this has been a challenging endeavor, and I have dealt with a significant amount of sleep deprivation and stress, there is nothing I would rather be doing with my spring break. I have had my hands on so many fascinating documents that have helped to shape the America we live in today. I’m learning how to be a better researcher, and ultimately, I will have a finished product that I can really be proud of.

Amanda1.JPG Even to the other adult researchers in the library, it is hard to explain why college students would want to do this with our break; the great thing about my classmates is that they all have the same excitement for their work as I do, which drives us to put in the hours of focus. We have an end goal in mind, and that goal really is to learn more about the laws that govern our country and the incredible court that interprets and “makes” them.

Today we visited the Supreme Court building in the morning before our research day began. We toured the courtroom, conference rooms and libraries, and admired the beautiful architecture of the “marble temple.” We got the chance to stand in the place where lawyers argue before the court to see how very intimidatingly close to the Chief Justice it really is. We also played an exciting game of “spot John Marshall” (he is everywhere), and I learned that turtles are an important symbol of the court (slow and steady, get it?) Disappointingly we weren’t able to casually bump into a current Supreme Court justice – “Where ARE you Scalia??” – but we did get to visit the gift shop, perhaps the most important visit of our trip.

So those were the ups and downs of my last two days. I went from discouragement and panic to a new feeling of confidence and excitement. It’s amazing what a bunch of white marble and a huge stack of papers can do (but maybe there’s a little more to it.)

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