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

Our Chief Justice sighting

An update from Julianna, a sophomore majoring in business who is conducting research on the exclusionary rule:

It’s been a little over two days since we made our way back to Dallas. I don’t even know where to begin! My initial post-trip reaction was most succinctly conveyed in my conversation with my Mom.

“Julie, tell me all about your trip! It must have been so exciting. Did you see the Capitol? How was the Supreme Court?? How was Obama doing?”

“It was awesome. Sorry, gotta sleep…..” and then I trailed off in a stream of mumbles as slumber overtook me. I didn’t wake up until 4 pm Sunday.

Yes, this trip was absolutely exhausting, but it was in the most wonderful way possible. I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world. The Manuscript Reading Room, the squeaky carts stacked with our boxes, the endless collection of primary sources, the good scanner, the finicky scanner, and the librarians all have a special place in my heart. Since I last blogged, we’d taken short tours of the Supreme Court and of the Capitol building during our breaks from researching. Both buildings are absolutely stunning and exude an air of grandeur and authority.

I’d have to say that I most preferred our excursion to the Supreme Court. I forget if I mentioned it before, but D.C. really has a distinct flair. Of course, when we go to D.C., the outside of the Supreme Court had to be under renovation. Because of ongoing marble restoration treatments, the edifice was enshrined with tarps and scaffolding. Just our luck.

Normally, this sort of situation would seemingly ruin any opportunity for a quintessential Supreme Court class photo. But no! Someone out there thought this through and graciously had the huge hanging tarps printed with a giant, high-resolution photograph of the front of the building. Again, stay classy D.C., ow ow ;). That was the most majestic, giggle-worthy tarp I’d ever seen. But I digress; our tour was spectacular. It’s always amusing to exacerbate tour guides, especially since ours expected us to be as knowledgeable about the Supreme Court as a pack of middle-schoolers are.

“Can anyone tell me what the three branches of government are?” She, quite perkily, began. We let her finish her question before politely responding with, “The executive, legislative and judicial branches.” Easy peasie, lemon squeezie. Maybe this was just a warm-up question, we thought.

“Oh, well… Does anyone know what each of the branches do?” We did and we told her. Each question she’d softball to us — to both her surprise and apparent dejection — we’d knock it out of the park. “Who knows who the only impeached justice was?” Kobylka handedly took down that one. Finally, as we approached a beautiful marble bust, she thought she’d really get to stump us. This was her grand finish: “Now, who can tell me why Marshall is known as The Great Chief Justice?”

Our collective, “He established judicial review in Marbury v Madison,” really took the last of the perk right out of her. Maybe it woulda’ been funnier if we responded that it was because he was the first African-American justice on the Court.

I suspect our tour was a bit quicker than most, due to the fact that we accidentally undermined her talking points. Regardless, we all reveled in the importance of the building. We could all appreciate the beauty, detail oriented-ness, and symbolism in the architecture. This is where it all happened and continues to happen. All the papers we’d been working with, all the oral arguments we’d been reading about, and all the memos and opinions we’d been wading through in the Library of Congress came from the very building we were standing in.

Each of us ended up taking pictures with the portraits of “our justices.” – i.e., I’d been working mostly in Justice Brennan’s papers so I got a nice selfie with his portrait. It’s amazing how ‘close we’d become’ with these justices, just by going through their paper trails.

To top our visit all off, we saw Chief Justice Roberts, in the flesh. We were in his airspace. We breathed his air. This could easily be considered the highlight of my academic life. We had walked out of a room which displayed a handful of the portraits of previous Chief Justices and had entered the hallway to continue on to another location. Our group didn’t immediately realize what was happening, but a man briskly walked by us and entered a conference room. It was him. We had a Roberts sighting. Some of us were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of his face, others just his torso. I had only seen his left hand as he was closing the door. I bet he holds circulated opinions, dissents, concurrences, and memos with that hand! ;)

To those non-Sup Court nerds out there, which I suspect is the bulk of the population, I leave you with this analogy. Imagine taking a basic, touristy tour of the White House. Then, unexpectedly, YOU ARE SUDDENLY GRACED BY THE PRESENCE OF THE PRESIDENT. *Poof* he was gone as quickly as he had appeared.

Share this story:

    About Sarah Hanan

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