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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Running with the best of them

An update from Alexander, a sophomore psychology and political science major:

As we left our second day at the Library of Congress, I was overcome with the most surreal feeling. I felt like a graduate student, as if I were some sort of imposter in the scholarly world of research, journal articles and book writing, and far away from my simple undergraduate problems. Then it fully dawned on me that I had spent the day searching through 50-year-old Supreme Court Justice papers to answer a question I’d spent the past two months designing. This was, is, legitimate research.

Here we are in the thick of it all, running with the best of them.

Everything has been nonstop since our early “before the sun” departure Monday morning. It would be easy to say that it’s exhausting, but honestly it’s so much more amazing than it is tiring. We leave for the Library every morning to arrive as soon as it opens and we stay until they kick us out (technically, they use a bell, but the message received is the same).

The second we enter that reading room, everything else just gets checked at the front door. Our brains are nothing but case law and Justice dynamics. Each new box brims with clues and facts that give us better insight into what influences and sustains the judicial decision-making process.

I remember opening my first box on Ex Parte Quirin from Justice Hugo Black. Lifting out his original, handwritten notes, I quickly looked around to be sure I was even allowed to do so.

These papers should be on display in a museum. They are actual personal papers, and we just get to rifle through them like each box is just another filing cabinet. We get to search through decades of inter-Justice memos, hate mail, correspondence, original opinion drafts and much more at our own pace without any interruption or lurking librarian. Everything is so real that it’s like each Justice is sitting there with you, annotating each opinion. Privilege is an understatement.

We detox each day with dinner (Bullfeathers by the Capitol South Metro stop is now a personal favorite) and heated discussion as everyone cranes to talk about the incredible things they found that day. It’s a group unlike any other I’ve been a part of before. This research isn’t an obligation for a class; it’s a personal source of excitement for each and every student. Beyond the scholarly group bond, we’ve already grown into such a tight-knit group in only three days in the Capitol. Inside jokes abound. We eat together, run together and sit together all day in the reading room of the library, often turning to each other to hiss, “Look at this!” and share some new incredible piece of background information we’ve found. I can already feel our time coming to a close, and don’t want to think about having to leave this place behind.

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