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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The last box …

An update from Alexander, a sophomore psychology and political science major, who is conducting research on the effect of threats to national security on the judicial decision-making process:

Wow, I just sent in my last judicial paper box request card. (For those of you wondering, it’s for Harold Burton’s papers on the Youngstown Sheet & Tube v. Sawyer (1952) case.) 70 boxes later, here we are at the end of the trip.

How can I possibly sum up this unbelievable experience? For the last six days, I have eaten, slept, and breathed nothing but Supreme Court Justice papers (and coffee), and now it seems completely bizarre to consider leaving this place behind and returning to SMU where I have to learn about things that aren’t Supreme Court Justices.

With my hands streaked with pencil lead, my computer crammed full of draft opinions and judicial memoranda, and already missing the Capitol dome on the horizon of our morning trek to the Library, I feel overwhelmed with all I’ve learned and done over the past few days. Some highlights:

  • The unbelievable Library staff
  • A walk down the National Mall after our last dinner in D.C.
  • Brisk morning walks into the Library, buzzing about who’s getting who’s papers
  • “Blueberry” waffles at the Ballston Comfort Inn
  • Morning runs with Kristine, Professor Kobylka, and the rabbits
  • Frantic looks on classmates’ faces during the last 30 minutes of our stay in the Library
  • Learning more about the 3 branches of government, and what they all do
  • Seeing Chief Justice Roberts in the Supreme Court Building
  • Snap-chats after 8-hour research binges
  • Rickety Metro rides (don’t forget your pills!)
  • Meeting Linda Greenhouse, a prominent judicial scholar
  • Justice Harry Blackmun’s colorful commentary in the margins of his papers
  • Smothering our problems in pizza, milkshakes, and hamburgers (and ice cream, and pasta, and anything else the Madison Café threw our way)

It’s difficult to asses our time in D.C. because time has, for the most part, stood completely still while rushing past us. The following weeks will be filled with readjustment to people who don’t care about the Establishment Clause, catching up on schoolwork, and trying to make my classmates realize that my Spring Break blew theirs out of the water, no question about it. I’ve grown closer to my class of researchers, learned more than I’ve learned in most classes anywhere, and been more exhausted than most days, but the journey doesn’t end here, as we now return to Dallas to put all of our research together into something truly incredible.

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