Political Science in Washington, 2017

Associate Professor of Political Science Joe Kobylka and the students in his Honors Program class “The Supreme Court Seminar” are spending six days in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., doing research in the papers of former Supreme Court Justices. Each student has developed a unique research topic, question, and design, and will use the justices’ papers to find evidence to help answer the question and write a culminating original research paper.

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Concluding Thoughts

An update from Courtney T., a senior triple majoring in political science, history and Spanish, and minoring in law and legal reasoning

Today, we flew back from Washington, DC, and I’ve had a chance to reflect on our experience and recollect my thoughts. My first reaction is: wow. While most of my friends spent their Spring Break vacations at exotic destinations, I still am confident I had the absolute best Spring Break experience.

During our time at the Library of Congress I was researching First Amendment jurisprudence during the 20th century. Specifically, I was looking at the split between Justice Douglas and Justice Black on speech conduct issues. Both Black and Douglas were appointed to the Supreme Court by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Both were consistently on the same side of many Supreme Court cases—but they usually split when it came to “speech conduct” cases, such as in Tinker v. Des Moines, when students wore black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War. Douglas believed it was protected speech, Black did not. While researching their files this week gave me valuable insight to this division, the thing that struck me the most was the humanity of these justices.

Past Supreme Court Justices, especially to students of history and political science, are essentially legendary—we revere them in a sort of demi-god sense. Reading the Justices’ personal papers was a fundamental reminder that these highly intelligent, intensely influential individuals were still very human. The documents I came across that made me smile the most were birthday cards to Justice Black, dinner invitations from Chief Justice Warren, and postcards from around the world, courtesy of Justice Douglas. Holding these historically rather insignificant—yet infinitely intriguing—documents in my own hands was extremely rewarding. Undergraduates rarely have these opportunities, and I am blessed to have witnessed everything I have in the past week.

To conclude our last night in D.C., we toured the monuments at night, which was a truly stunning experience. There was a slight drizzle as we strolled from monument to monument, but we did not care—the sheen coming off the Vietnam Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial were worth it. Spending the week in our nation’s capitol was a beautiful and meaningful reminder of America’s purpose. While our future may look dim, I am confident that we rest on an impressive legacy that can withstand the tides time.

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