Honors Course Reflections

Lydia Krull: Blog 1

Today was a crazy day! I woke up at the luxurious Comfort Inn Ballston (our home base for the week) and met the rest of the class downstairs for breakfast as usual. Yesterday I did not have as much time to work in the justices’ papers as the previous days because we had an awesome tour of the Supreme Court (cool, I know), so I went into today with a game plan. My research is focused on the Establishment Clause and how the Court’s doctrine in this area has changed since the Burger Court. In sum, I’m evaluating the wall separating church and state and how/why it has changed since the 1970s. I’ve been working in Justice Blackmun’s papers for the past two days after finishing Justice Brennan’s, so I wanted to reach Wallace v. Jaffree (1985) today. That was ambitious, so I naturally had two cups of coffee this morning.

Once at the Library of Congress, I started in Justice Blackmun’s papers with Marsh v. Chambers (1983). This has been one of my favorite cases to look at to date for a few reasons. First, the case itself is fascinating because it concerns legislative prayer in state legislatures and whether chaplaincy practice violates the First Amendment Establishment Clause. Most of the cases I’ve looked at have focused on school prayer and parochial aid, so the issue here was substantially different. Second, Blackmun’s papers in this case are especially interesting because he sided with the more accommodationist bloc (or “conservative” members of the Court in areas of religion) when he has typically been more of a separationist on the Court up until this point. Despite the memos from his clerks, Blackmun voted legislative prayer was historical to the United States, and he voted to uphold the practice. His notes on the case dub it as “silly,” but they did not offer a concrete explanation as to why he changed course. Finally, I found crucial correspondence between Blackmun and his clerks that he and Justice O’Connor both had changes that they wanted to make to Chief Justice Burger’s majority opinion. Chief Justice Burger’s clerk suggested that perhaps if both Blackmun and O’Connor sent changes, the Chief may be more receptive to their suggestions. This type of conversation between the justices and their clerks provides insight into how the case was decided and why. To top my day of research off, I finished my goal and ended up making it past Wallace and up to Aguilar v. Felton (1985). I’ll definitely be in good shape for tomorrow!

Planking in front of the Supreme Court in honor of RBG’s birthday

After finishing at “the office,” we took a walk to the Supreme Court because it is my hero Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s birthday today! In celebration of her 86th birthday, people gathered in front of the Court to do planks because she is basically a ninja with a personal trainer. Naturally, we got a picture of us planking with Professor Kobylka (who I can totally plank longer than, by the way).

We got dinner at an awesome taco joint and then took the metro home. In a stunning turn of events, Paxton (who was sitting next to me) left his phone on the train. We tried to track his phone for a while in various Find my iPhone attempts, but he was off the grid. After about an hour of running around underground stalking the silver line trains to find the phone, my roommate Lizzie got in touch with our new hero who found Paxton’s phone. He was literally a stop away from us about to go to a dinner when the hero answered Lizzie’s phone call to Paxton’s phone. It was wild. We got the phone back (somehow) and had a triumphant walk home to the luxurious Comfort Inn. I can’t believe tomorrow is the last day, but I’m excited to wrap up my research and spend one final day with my class!

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