Political Science in Washington, 2013

As part of the University Honors Program political science course “Law, Politics and the Supreme Court,” students and Political Science Associate Professor Joe Kobylka are spending spring break 2013 in Washington, D.C. The students are conducting research on Supreme Court cases at the Library of Congress.

Read more from Political Science in Washington, 2013

An intellectual feast

An update from Austin, a sophomore majoring in economics, public policy and political science, with a minor in law and legal reasoning, who is conducting research on the differing “absolutisms” of Justice Black and Justice Douglas’ First Amendment Freedom of Expression jurisprudence:

When asked why he wanted to serve on the Supreme Court, Robert Bork responded, “it would be an intellectual feast.” This nicely sums up why my classmates and I have decided to engage in scholarly research over Spring Break.

I have had Dr. Kobylka every semester I have been in college – which is a testament either to his greatness or my insanity. When this opportunity presented itself, I never had to second-guess forgoing Spring Break to partake in such a unique experience. What better way to learn about government than to immerse oneself in the resources of the Nation’s capital? The environment certainly isn’t as relaxing as lounging at the beach, but is, in a whole different sense of the word, exciting. Who needs a break anyway? Learning never ceases.

I have had two classes focusing on the Supreme Court before this one – Civil Liberties and Constitutional Law. However, this one changes the ballgame. Prior to this class my scholarship has been confined to the final Supreme Court opinions and secondary literature. Now, I am conducting firsthand research that some law students and political scientists never get to perform. My research concerns the differing “absolutisms” of Justice Black and Justice Douglas’ First Amendment Freedom of Expression jurisprudence.

The reading room in the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress is one of the most amazing rooms I have ever been in. Around the top edge of the dome room stand statues representing some of the greatest minds from various disciplines of all time. Among them are Plato, Shakespeare, Moses, Beethoven, and Herodotus.

Our research is conducted in the Manuscript Reading Room which, lacking the aesthetic grandeur of the Main Reading Room, ushers in a whole different sense of awe. In it an ordinary citizen, such as myself, can search through thousands of original documents. The only requirement is a Library of Congress reading card (which, somewhat ironically, is not considered a government issue identification card); I will surely be putting the card to use once again this summer.

Handling the very papers the Supremes used to debate and deliberate gives a unique perspective into the approaches and personalities of the Justices, as well as how the Court functions. We have realized some Justices keep better records than others, and some write considerably more legibly than others (what are you writing, Douglas?!).

Rifling through this history makes the eight-hour day seem more like two; indeed, there is a certain adrenaline rush in the active search and discovery of information. But after leaving the Library there is also a crash. Sitting in a room reading all day may not seem strenuous, but it is absolutely exhausting. Every night (save for tonight…so far) I have come back from the Library of Congress and crashed for a few hours in the hotel room. Then I wake up, read and organize for a few hours, and go back to bed for the next wake-up call.

The rest of the week includes more research – much more – and some nice breaks, including a tour of the Supreme Court and the Capitol (the latter a result of the sequester’s role in shutting down White House tours). I speak for the whole class when I say we truly appreciate the opportunity to be here. We’d like to thank SMU, the Honors Program, the Richter Foundation, and Dr. Kobylka.

Three days down, three to go. Until next time…

Share this story:

    About Sarah Hanan

    EA-PubAffairs(Periodicals)
    This entry was posted in Political Science in Washington, 2013. Bookmark the permalink.