Honors Course Reflections

Natalie Gullo: Blog 2

Bronze statue of John Marshall sits seated in his Justice robe. Sculpture sits on a marble bed with the description engraved in gold.

Sculpture of John Marshall by William Wetmore Story, ground floor of the Supreme Court Building

I cannot believe how quickly this trip flew by. I thought, given the amount of time I knew we would be reading documents, that this trip would drag on, but not once have I felt as though I have had enough time to get through everything I wanted t o. As the days have passed I improved on my ability to look through the case files and get to what is relevant more efficiently, but man I could definitely use at least five more days.

On Wednesday, I sorted through all four of my WW2 cases, and, in seeing the files of different justices, I’ve gotten some diverse information about the cases. The first two justices I looked at, Justice Jackson and Chief Justice Stone, kept little to no record of how the voting in conference went for their cases. Justice Douglas, on the other hand, kept papers like a packrat, so I was able to find half of the votes for my cases from his record alone. Working through the drafts and the memos that were sent once more demonstrated that while the Justices were highly intelligent, serious men doing a serious, important job, they were also in turns collegial, joking, manipulative, sarcastic, real people.  It was quite an interesting thing to see.

On Thursday, we took a break from our research to walk over to the Supreme Court, take a tour and talk to the Clerk of the Court. The building, like the Jefferson building and the Capitol, is absolutely gorgeous. Having spent some time in the papers of 40s-era Chief Justice Harlan Stone, I was particularly amused to note in one of the displays his opinion on the building: “The place is almost bombastically pretentious, and thus seems to me wholly inappropriate for a quite group of old boys such as the Supreme Court of the United States.” (Stone, 1935). More or less, such a sentiment is consistent with what comes through in Stone’s papers. To me, given the significant way the Court shaped America in the twentieth century and beyond, perhaps a bit of bombastic pretentiousness is warranted.

View of two floors - two marble staircases lead up to a windowed gallery. Ornate murals decorate the ceiling, along with etched glass skylights.

The Great Hall in the Thomas Jefferson Building, Library of Congress

The docent who gave our tour was excellent, and the experience of getting to see the “room where it happens” (pardon the Hamilton reference) was awesome. When the docent sat us down in the court room to discuss how Court proceedings go, we sat exactly where members of the Supreme Court Bar sit. If I sound like a combination of a fangirl and a giant nerd, its definitely because I am. Our discussion with the Clerk of the Court was interesting as well. His position is one I knew absolutely nothing about, but he exerts significant control over the day to day happenings of the Court. It was cool to get his insight about how certain types of proceedings work and his thoughts on the Court in general.

Besides our research and the Court tour, the second half of the week included a number of fun things like a divine chocolate milkshake on Wednesday night, being rightfully teased for buying out half the gift shop at the Court, helping in search efforts to rescue a phone that was left on the metro, and being told that I have deceptive doe eyes when we played Secret Hitler at the hotel in the evening. I’m not sure I had any idea what to expect on this trip, but its been quite the ride, and I am so grateful I got to come. Next, we move on to the real beast: writing the paper!

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