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.

A little bit of R&R: Research Recreation!

An update from Katelyn, a sophomore majoring in journalism, Spanish and political science, and conducting research on the Supreme Court’s opinions on student rights:

Today was our first full day of researching in the Library of Congress, and it’s already shaping up to be an interesting week.

Just got our Library of Congress reader cards!

I’m researching the Supreme Court’s change in opinion on student rights in schools from the time of Tinker v. Des Moines (1969) through the current courts. I’m using the papers of the justices to get a full idea of how, and more important, why the Court changed its view of student rights in schools.

Before any of us could look at our specific research questions and really dig into the papers of the justices, we headed to an orientation with Jeff Flannery, head of the Manuscript Reading Room.

The group followed Flannery into a conference room to learn how to conduct our research. In front of each seat was a large white folder. When I looked closer, I realized there were small labels on each. Before each of us were some of the most remarkable documents in America. I saw Alexander Graham Bell’s sketch of the telephone, an appeal for bail for witches in 1692, an explanation of a macaroni maker by Thomas Jefferson….

As I scanned the room and looked closely at these original documents, it hit me that I was in for an incredible experience. I would soon be looking at the handwritten opinions of Thurgood Marshall, notes from Potter Stewart to Abe Fortas, and so much more.

After running through the rules and procedures of the library, we trekked across the hall into the Manuscript Reading Room and I called for my first boxes. I looked through Hugo Black’s papers on Tinker, finding newspaper clippings he had annotated, drafts of his dissenting opinions, and fan mail regarding his position in the case.

I’ve already explored so much, and can’t wait to see what tomorrow has in store!

In the Madison building of the Library of Congress.

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Like coming home again

An update from Brandon B., a third-year political science, history and English major who is conducting research on “swing Justices” on the Court:

As I got off the plane at Washington Reagan National Airport, hopped on the DC Metro Orange Line, unpacked my bags at the Ballston Comfort Inn, all I could think was, “It’s just like coming home again.” Of course I’m not actually from this area, and I’ve only been to Washington, D.C., once, but going through all the procedures and preparations for this seminar once again certainly felt familiar to me.

My experience on this trip is unique compared to most other students in that it’s my second time participating in Professor Kobylka’s Supreme Court seminar. While some might suggest that enrolling again shows I’m some kind of glutton for punishment, I think it’s actually a testament to how amazing the trip was the first time around, and how fortunate I am that I can return thanks to my SMU Tower Center Fellowship as well as the generous funding of the Richter Fellowship program.

Getting back into the swing of research at the Library of Congress didn’t quite come as easily as I might have expected (it took about 30 minutes for me to realize that the box of papers I was searching through was actually the wrong one), but once I settled into a routine I moved at a pretty rapid pace. This time around, I really don’t have much room for error: I have over 30 Supreme Court cases I want to analyze in depth while I’m here. The task might be a bit too ambitious, but whereas most of my peers have just this semester to complete their research, I have until I graduate next year. Maybe if I beg enough the university will let me come back again…

Admittedly, few of my friends outside of this trip understand why my idea of fun consists of studying in a library for a week, but my own nerdiness notwithstanding, we have quite a bit more on the docket besides research. On Friday, we get to tour the Capitol building, and on Thursday, we have a private tour of the Supreme Court lined up. It would be especially awesome (though not likely) to run into a current Supreme Court justice while we’re there – I know if I see Justice Ginsburg there’s a New Yorker article I’m hoping to talk to her about…

All in all, I’d say we have a stellar week lined up. I only hope the rest of my friends who are here for the first time will have as great of an experience as I did last time I was here. Additionally, I know that my experience has already been better than ever (I’m at least not sleeping on the floor this time around). I’m excited to be back and ready to hit the books again early tomorrow morning.

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Blisters and Byron

An update from Kristine, a sophomore majoring in real estate finance and minoring in law and legal reasoning and Spanish, who is researching Justice Byron White’s position in libel cases over his tenure on the Court and why he ultimately called for the reversal of his opinion in the 1964 case New York Times v. Sullivan:

Starting at 3 a.m. on Monday, my mind and body have been running nonstop; hence, my two little pinky toes are about to fall off. After landing safely in D.C., we hopped on the metro (although it wasn’t that easy since the machines take only $1, $5, and $10 bills) to the most perfect hotel in Ballston, Virginia (as it has complimentary breakfast). Shortly after check-in, we were back on the metro and headed to D.C. to check out the place where we would spend the next five days researching the papers of the Justices.

Upon arrival at the Library of Congress, we registered for our researcher’s cards and then headed out to check out the rest of D.C. (as in the Jefferson Building and the Supreme Court). Finally my nerves had been calmed, and I was ready to take on this week of once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

This morning I set my alarm (3 times just to make sure I woke up) for 5:30 to get in an early morning run with the best professor on SMU’s campus, Professor Kobylka. Alex, Kobylka and I took on Custis Trail for a quick 3-mile run, followed up by a delicious breakfast and a metro ride to the LOC to get to work.

When I opened up my first folder for Justice Byron White, I could not have been more amazed and excited to get an inside look at how Justices come to the decisions that are ultimately published by the Court and therefore define our history. This stuff is incredible. The seven hours that we spent in the Library today flew by, and I surprisingly can’t wait to get back there tomorrow. However, all the excitement aside, I must say that I am exhausted, and therefore I have become the most frequent and best metro sleeper thus far (and the subject of some super cute pictures).

With blister Band-Aids on my toes, and lots of work left to do, I am going to bed to dream about the exciting week I have ahead of me.

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An original drawing from Thomas Jefferson

An update from Brandon F., a sophomore political science and accounting major who is conducting research on the development and eventual end of Brown v. Board’s doctrine of “All Deliberate Speed…”:

So far, so good.

Since 4 a.m. Monday, we’ve been on the go. With Day 1 consisting of touring the Jefferson building of the Library of Congress, pictures outside the Supreme Court, and the always hectic airport, we couldn’t ask for a better start to the week.

Today marked the first day of research at the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. Upon sitting down at our tutorial session, I see an enormous folder containing an original drawing from Thomas Jefferson. As we circulate these amazing documents, the magnitude of the week hits me. This class is giving me the opportunity to do original research on historical artifacts of national importance!

As the day went on, this feeling only escalated. My research is focused on Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and the subsequent decade and a half of desegregation. Thus, throughout the day I was working directly with the handwritten notes and letters of a case that changed the course of American history. Truly, it was an amazing experience. The crazy thing is that it’s only Day 1!

That being said, I AM EXHAUSTED! Tomorrow is another early morning and long day. Normally during a day of schoolwork I need coffee, and lots of it. Yet when I was digging through the archives I found myself alert. The feeling is almost equivalent to a runner’s high, which I assume comes from from the importance of the documents I am studying.

All in all, the week has been great, and I have a feeling it will only get better!

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Joining the Library of Congress community

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 haven’t even been in Washington, D.C., for a full day yet, and I’m already feeling like my time here is going to pass by too quickly, much faster than I’d like. With less than a week to look through the justices’ papers — their journals, notes, and scholarly works — I have a wonderful but somewhat daunting task ahead of me.

Yesterday, the class took the early (really early) morning flight out of D/FW… just 24 hours after daylight savings kicked in, too! I looked around the plane, and it seemed like almost everyone was zonked out right after takeoff. Not that I blame them; even with coffee it was hard to stay awake.

Technically, we landed 15 minutes early but sat on the runway waiting for our gate to open up until our scheduled arrival time, so does that really count as early? A quick stop at the hotel to drop off our bags, and by afternoon we were standing outside the Library of Congress buildings… amazing! First stop: the reader cards. I’ve got to say, that was pretty impressive.

And after that, Professor Kobylka escorted us over to the Jefferson building, which is the oldest of the three Library of Congress buildings. The interior was breathtaking. We were surrounded by huge vaulted ceilings, beautifully painted walls and ceiling panels, and inspiring phrases on the walls meant to encourage studious behavior.

Probably the best part of the experience was when we were allowed access into the main manuscript room (courtesy of our wonderful reader cards) and given an opportunity to peruse the books and materials within the manuscript room. As a history major, I have to confess that it was almost overwhelming, standing there amid some of the most impressive scholarship our nation has ever known. For just a moment, while taking it in, all I could think was: How can I ever measure up to that?

So it’s early Tuesday morning (really early, plus another time zone), and I know that in just a few short hours I’ll finally have a chance to work in the Madison building manuscript room — a space dedicated to the highest level of learning and scholarly endeavors — and I, too, will finally become part of the Library of Congress scholarly community… I just hope that I’m worthy of the many scholars who came before me.

This is a trip of a lifetime, and I feel so fortunate to have been given this opportunity and the chance to experience history as I’ve only read about it. And now, I’m off to the Library of Congress… until later, all.

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