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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New appreciation for the judicial process

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:

Yesterday, Wednesday, I definitely had to buckle down and work. Vanessa and I actually woke up 15 minutes before we had to be downstairs, but we made it fine and in time for me to grab a cup of coffee to go before our group made the trip down the hill to the metro and to the Library of Congress to dive into our work.

I started back into my Brennan files, which ended up being my focus the whole day. Dr. Kobylka was right on target when he warned us prior to the trip how easily you can become so engrossed in what you are reading and mesmerized by the fact that you are working with the same documents that were written and used by the Justices themselves. Brennan’s files are particularly enthralling considering he saved a good amount of the papers that went through his office, making my research much easier. Going through these files makes me have a whole new appreciation for the judicial process and the thought and creativity involved in coming to most Constitutional decisions.

I started getting a bit concerned toward the end of the day because I still had so much more to go through with Brennan before I could move on to Justice Blackmun’s papers. I got through as much as I could before it was time for us to pack up and leave for our Chinese dinner. Still in the “mode,” I spent some time during dinner organizing myself for the next day so I could be as productive as possible from the moment I got to the Library. We spent dinner bonding as usual, and I can truly say all of my classmates have become more than that; they have become my good friends.

Once back at the hotel, I went down to the gym for as good of a workout as I could muster and then back up to my room to do some more work before I went to sleep. My roommates and I talked a while, as we have been every night since we arrived, and finally got to bed so we could get a good start on our day, which was supposed to start at a 7:15 meeting time.

Today was beyond incredible. I can’t explain how fortunate we have been, but thanks to all those who have been working so diligently to make this trip as fulfilling as possible, we were able to have a private tour of the Supreme Court. Vanessa, Amanda and I woke up super early so we could get ourselves ready and meet in time. Unfortunately Sarah didn’t quite make it in time so she had to catch up before we got to the metro since we were rushing to reach the Supreme Court in time for our tour. Our metro stopped halfway, however, because apparently someone got sick, but thankfully Martha figured out how to jump metros and arrive at our station.

We stored our bags at the manuscript room lockers in the Library of Congress before continuing to the Supreme Court, and once we got there, we spent our extra few minutes passing our cameras off to each other so we could all get pictures with the massive statue of John Marshall, who happens to be the central focus of the building. Of course I mixed up John Marshall and Thurgood Marshall at first, which was beyond embarrassing, but everyone got a good laugh out of it.

Our tour guide was a sweet, personable junior from George Washington University, and he led us around the building explaining everything as we went. I think we’re all in agreement that the best part of the tour was when we were brought into the actual hearing room and were able to individually stand at the podium where the attorneys stand when arguing their cases. I can’t imagine how intimidating that must be considering the fact that the podium is incredibly close to the Chief Justice’s seat with Scalia’s seat to the left. Unforunately we weren’t permitted to take pictures in the hearing room or the private library, which was just as exciting. At the end of the tour, Dr. Kobylka allowed us to spend some time (and money) in the gift shop, but we had to hustle to get back to work at the Library.

I got right to work once I got to my table and finally made it through the Brennan papers and on to Blackmun. It’s funny how in just a few days we have already gotten the hang of the system and go through the motions naturally, as if we have been doing research here all semester. Mr. Flannery allowed us to take a few pictures at the end of the day in the manuscript room, even though it is usually prohibited.

As we walked out of the building, Dr. Kobylka’s son and his friend were standing outside to surprise him since he has been spending his spring break in Baltimore and wanted to spend the day in D.C. They joined us for dinner at this fun little restaurant down the street from the Library, and I’m pretty sure this was the peak of our group’s bonding experience. I have never expected to be in a class where each person contributes so much intellectually and socially – and especially not in one that becomes so close as one big group as opposed to multiple cliques. I feel so blessed to have been able to be included in this special group of incredible individuals who have become such amazing friends in only a small amount of time.

I knew this would be the experience of a lifetime, but I never could have expected it to be as ideal as it has been.

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