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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Opening boxes and diving into history

An update from Eric, a sophomore majoring in political science and public policy who is conducting research on Justice Blackmun’s Fourth Amendment jurisprudence:

How can you trade a week of relaxation and sun for six long days of research? This question has been something I’ve had to answer all semester. Of course, the answer is simple, “How could you pass up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study from the personal papers of Supreme Court Justices?”

Leading up to this week in the capital, I had no idea what to expect. Sure I had a general idea of what the paper would entail, but it wasn’t until I opened that first box and dove right into Justice Blackmun’s cases dealing with the 4th Amendment, that I finally realized the gravity of the situation. I was holding history.

Not only has this research provided me with more knowledge about the court, but it has also shed light on the Justices themselves. It is incredible how one sentence here, or one word there, can generate so much feedback from the public. The fact that Justices receive both praise and hate (but mostly hate) through mail just shows how the nine of them shoulder such awe-inspiring responsibility.

After our first two full days of research, Tuesday and Wednesday, I look at all of the opinions, memos, and personal correspondence I’ve digested and start to feel excited about how much I’ve accomplished. This feeling, however, is fleeting. After I see what I have done, I realize all I have left to do and how much time I have in which to do it.

This sudden realization kick-starts a brief sense of panic, but that doesn’t last long, with three more days to look at papers, and tours of both the Capitol Building and the Supreme Court in the horizon, it’s hard to feel anything but excitement.

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