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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Living and learning

An update from Taylor, a sophomore majoring in political science and Spanish who is conducting research on school prayer decisions during the 1980s and early 1990s:

I can’t believe that we’ve already been in D.C. for two days and I’m just now getting a free moment to blog about all the things that have happened so far.

Right now, I’m waiting for my next batch of justice papers to be wheeled out on their carts in the Madison building (I know it sounds strange, but the Manuscript Reading Room at the Library of Congress has a lot of rules to preserve the collections so future researchers can study the documents). When the papers get here, I’ll go back to reading Harry Blackmun’s notes, drafts, and memorandum on the school prayer cases that took place in the 1980s and early 1990s while Ronald Reagan was in office leading a movement to bring conservative values back to American homes and schools.

So far I’ve learned that there are more politics that go into the decisions than the final opinions show, that each justice has his or her own style of communication within the court, and that Blackmun has very small, very illegible handwriting, but takes great notes when you can read them (thanks for letting me borrow your magnifying glass, Professor Kobylka).

But I’ve learned about more than just the Supreme Court and its Justices; within hours of being in D.C., I figured out that I have a surprising number of things in common with Hannah, that you’re supposed to stand on the right side of the escalators in the metro because the left is for people walking up, and that it’s pretty easy to get motion sickness while on the trains. Thankfully, everyone on the trip is good at giving me reminders to take anti-motion sickness pills before we leave to explore the city in between our time in the library.

So far, we’ve seen the inside of the reading room in the Jefferson building of the Library of Congress (the sheer number of books covering so many subjects was overwhelming) and the outside of the Supreme Court building, and gotten to know each other better over dinner at Bullfeathers and Uncle Julio’s. I’m looking forward to our tour of the Supreme Court tomorrow and Congress on Friday; they should be good breaks to help me recharge so I can read more school prayer cases. This trip has been jam-packed, but after two days of working in the library, I’m starting to feel more like a researcher – I can’t wait to dig into a new case tomorrow morning!

Taylor and Alex researching Harry Blackmun and Hugo Black’s papers

Our group at the Supreme Court

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