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Hearing the Justices’ “voices”

An update from Anna, a senior majoring in history and anthropology, who is conducting research on sex discrimination under the 14th Amendment Equal Protection clause:

I can hardly believe that a week ago I was packing my bag, ready to head off for a week in D.C. I can still remember waiting at the airport — uncertain of what I could accomplish in such a short time and, too, wondering what I might take away from this experience.

Now that I’m back home in Dallas, I can honestly say that my research time at the Library of Congress passed way too quickly, but with more than a hundred pages of typed notes, I feel proud of the work that I accomplished during my stay. And yet, it’s the intangibles as a result of this opportunity — my growth as an academic, a historian, and a soon-to-be educator — that I’ll carry with me for much longer.

I’m sure it’ll sound a bit crazy, but I say, without hesitation, that I loved every minute I spent in the Library of Congress. For all of the hours that I’ve invested in the justices’ files — Brennan, Blackmun, White, and Marshall — I’ve grown so attached to their work, their handwritten notes and thoughts scratched on memos and draft opinions. This is as close as I can get to hearing their “voice,” understanding what they really thought about their cases and why they did or didn’t stand by their convictions.

At times it even seemed like I could feel what they were going through in coming to a judgment, what obstacles stood in the way of making difficult legal decisions with real and sometimes serious consequences. I knew as I read through their files that the decisions they were making would have a lasting and influential impact on the U.S. legal, political, and socio-cultural landscape for decades to come. And now, having gotten to know these men through their historical works, I feel like I’m glimpsing some truth that I otherwise would never have the opportunity to see in the final published opinions.

My time in the Library of Congress archives passed by unbelievably quickly — each day the 5 o’clock bell would sound, and even after a full day of reading and note-taking, I was never ready to leave it behind. Maybe for the first time in my academic career, I would have been happy to pull an “all-nighter,” just for the opportunity to stay in the room and keep reading. Just being able to absorb the details of these lives and stories, to lose myself for hours at a time inside the minds of these great justices — there’s no question I learned a great deal about my research topic, and through my research, a greater sense of who these justices were and what they believed to be important. And, too, a better understanding of myself and what I believe to be important.

In closing, I just want to say, again, how thankful I am to have been given this amazing opportunity. And, thank you to Professor Kobylka, to my travel companions, and to everyone who has shared this journey through our blog entries … Anna

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