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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Three days in

Amy1.jpg An update from Amy, a first-year political science and communications major, who is investigating the exclusionary rule and why it was not overturned during the Burger and Rehnquist courts despite consistent Republican appointments to the Supreme Court:

I am officially a pro at jaywalking. After a mere three days in Washington, D.C., I am fearless in the face of oncoming cars.

But I suppose you want the story from the beginning…

The group set off for D.C. early Monday morning. Professor Kobylka had been stressing about departure gate changes for two weeks at this point. Sunday night, he sent us an email titled “CHANGES!!!” Innocuous at first glance. But you have to understand that this is a man who despises emoticons and rarely approves of exclamation points. All caps and three exclamation points? Unheard of. The message read as follows:

“Okay, Kevin Eaton’s Mother’s airline [American Airlines] has seemingly now decided that we will fly out of TERMINAL A. GATE 19, tomorrow morning. I’d check back before you left, because this is the first time I’ve seen TERMINAL A, but with an EATON running the show, well, you know.”

Luckily, Monday morning, we were back to gate C27. Everyone managed to meet at security without much trouble. The lines were pretty long, even at 6:45 in the morning, but they moved at a decent enough clip to get us all through by 7:15, leaving us an hour to wander the airport and make a McDonald’s run. Many of us were already eyeing the gift shops, but Prof. Kobylka advised us to save our cash for the Supreme Court gift shop, which is, apparently, beyond cool.

The flight itself was relatively uneventful. I was seated in a middle seat, right in front of Kevin and Catherine, and next to an extremely friendly woman whose husband coincidentally taught at SMU. Thankfully, she was as considerate as she was loquacious, turning to her newspapers as I took out my book. Despite the book – or perhaps because of it – I promptly fell asleep as soon as the plane took off.

We landed in D.C. around noon, skipped lunch (as it turns out, I’d be skipping lunch most days in D.C.), and hurried to the Metro. After some difficulty securing our 7-day passes, we were safely on the blue line to Van Dorn Street. The walk from the Metro station to our Comfort Inn was a workout. Not only were we all lugging suitcases behind us, but the sidewalks were badly paved and muddy in many spots. I was afraid Hannah, who easily had the biggest bag, wouldn’t make it. We must have been quite a sight to the cars passing by – a motley train of college students stumbling behind the tall and striding Dr. Kobylka. Like a train of ducklings, except Mama Duck had no regard for traffic signals and crosswalks.

After trudging up a hill, we finally hurried into the hotel. At first, there was some confusion about the rooms, but everything worked out in the end, and before we knew it, we were headed toward DC proper.

Walking down Constitution toward the Library of Congress was incredible. The atmosphere was just intoxicating – important-looking people in suits walking around, impressive columned buildings, and so much white marble and granite. Finally, we arrived at the Library of Congress. After getting through security, we finished registering for library cards and wandered around the ground floor trying to get to the Great Hall. Several pictures later, we finally took the train back to Van Dorn Street. We had dinner at a small Italian restaurant, visited the grocery store, and finally headed back to the hotel.

Tuesday morning, after a pretty satisfactory breakfast, we headed back down to the library to get some serious work done. After a wonderful orientation by the very kind, very accommodating Mr. Jeff Flannery, we finally buckled down for a long day of research. I spent Monday buried in the papers of William Brennan. To my delight, Brennan could be quite snarky when he felt like it. Mosk, the attorney general of California, had spoken to Brennan praising the decision in Mapp v. Ohio. “Thank God for Mapp v. Ohio,” said Mosk. Brennan repeated what Mosk had said in a memo to all the Justices in the Court. Burger, upon reading the letter, immediately circulated an agitated response criticizing Mosk’s statements. He specifically talked about the federal power of the union. Brennan replied, “Though the issue did not come up in our conversation, I’m sure if asked, Mosk would have also said, ‘Thank God California is in the Union.’ ”

Burger, too, was capable of being obnoxious. In one case, he completely changed his reasoning in his opinion for the Court in the second draft. He then stated that he was ready for the opinions to come down. Stevens, who had already circulated several drafts of his dissent, wrote to Burger, expressing his concern about the opinions. Stevens felt that the opinions were not yet ready to come down, especially because Burger’s new opinion had only been out for a matter of days. Burger completely disregarded Stevens’ request and wrote back saying something along the lines of, “Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter. If I have four votes, we’re done. If I don’t, well, we’re also done.”

Although time certainly didn’t pass as quickly as Prof. Kobylka suggested it would, it certainly didn’t feel like we were in there from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. When we finally packed up to leave, I felt relieved and worn out. But there’s no denying that researching in the Library of Congress is an incredible experience.

Speaking of incredible experiences, eating at We the Pizza with Jeff Flannery and Professor Steve Wermiel later that day was an awesome treat. Dr. Wermiel was far more amiable than I expected. As he came in, I could see Sarah’s knuckles turning white as she clutched Vanessa’s hand under the table. Sarah got her autograph and not just one, but several pictures. After chatting late into the night, we finally headed back to the hotel for a few hours of sleep before another day of grueling research.

Wednesday went down in a similar fashion. Outside of the library, I’m glad to say that the group is bonding quite nicely. It’s amazing how close a group of students can get after a few days of nonstop companionship. It’ll be such a pleasure to see how the group continues to grow together.

Tomorrow, we will be touring the Marble Palace itself (and paying a visit to the much-anticipated gift shop).

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