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.

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Hearing the Justices’ “voices”

An update from Anna, a senior majoring in history and anthropology, who is conducting research on sex discrimination under the 14th Amendment Equal Protection clause:

I can hardly believe that a week ago I was packing my bag, ready to head off for a week in D.C. I can still remember waiting at the airport — uncertain of what I could accomplish in such a short time and, too, wondering what I might take away from this experience.

Now that I’m back home in Dallas, I can honestly say that my research time at the Library of Congress passed way too quickly, but with more than a hundred pages of typed notes, I feel proud of the work that I accomplished during my stay. And yet, it’s the intangibles as a result of this opportunity — my growth as an academic, a historian, and a soon-to-be educator — that I’ll carry with me for much longer.

I’m sure it’ll sound a bit crazy, but I say, without hesitation, that I loved every minute I spent in the Library of Congress. For all of the hours that I’ve invested in the justices’ files — Brennan, Blackmun, White, and Marshall — I’ve grown so attached to their work, their handwritten notes and thoughts scratched on memos and draft opinions. This is as close as I can get to hearing their “voice,” understanding what they really thought about their cases and why they did or didn’t stand by their convictions.

At times it even seemed like I could feel what they were going through in coming to a judgment, what obstacles stood in the way of making difficult legal decisions with real and sometimes serious consequences. I knew as I read through their files that the decisions they were making would have a lasting and influential impact on the U.S. legal, political, and socio-cultural landscape for decades to come. And now, having gotten to know these men through their historical works, I feel like I’m glimpsing some truth that I otherwise would never have the opportunity to see in the final published opinions.

My time in the Library of Congress archives passed by unbelievably quickly — each day the 5 o’clock bell would sound, and even after a full day of reading and note-taking, I was never ready to leave it behind. Maybe for the first time in my academic career, I would have been happy to pull an “all-nighter,” just for the opportunity to stay in the room and keep reading. Just being able to absorb the details of these lives and stories, to lose myself for hours at a time inside the minds of these great justices — there’s no question I learned a great deal about my research topic, and through my research, a greater sense of who these justices were and what they believed to be important. And, too, a better understanding of myself and what I believe to be important.

In closing, I just want to say, again, how thankful I am to have been given this amazing opportunity. And, thank you to Professor Kobylka, to my travel companions, and to everyone who has shared this journey through our blog entries … Anna

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