Honors Course Reflections

Ashley Montgomery: The Academic Trip I Will Never Forget

Justice Brennan sits in a chair with his Justice robe on and knees crossed and his hands folded in this lap.

Portrait of William J. Brennan by Paul C. Burns

After arriving in Dallas and reflecting on the whole Supreme Court seminar trip in D.C., I am completely speechless but in the best way possible! Researching in the Library of Congress has been unlike any experience I have had before. Although spending around 40 hours in the Library of Congress is not a typical way to spend spring break, I have to say this has been my favorite and most memorable spring break yet!

Throughout this past week, I have read through thousands of papers of the Justices and researching if the influx of Richard Nixon’s Supreme Court nominees impacted the overall development of the libel doctrine from the ruling in New York Times v. Sullivan in 1964 to the early 1990s. Coming into the trip, I had a good foundation of the libel doctrine, but now my knowledge over this topic has expanded in ways I could have never imagined possible! Over the week, I looked at around seventeen cases with Justice Brennan and Justice Blackmun’s papers and discovered many insights into the decision making of the libel doctrine based on their personal memorandums and notes. This area of law is way more complicated than I previously thought with the many vague phrases used in opinions. However, it has been fun trying to solve the overall puzzle of the development!

Blackmun sits in a chair with his justice robe on. A book is in his lap and his left hand rests on it. His right hand rests on his cheek.

Portrait of Harry Blackmun by Everett Raymond Kinstler

Although seeing the memorandums and correspondence between the Justices has been fascinating, the best part of looking through the cases was seeing the mail the Justices received from ordinary citizens regarding recent rulings. Justice Blackmun kept many of these letters, which were really interesting to read! It was especially fascinating to see how the public reacted to some of the rulings. Some of the letters expressed enthusiasm with the rulings, but there were a good share of letters sharing discontent as well. Before the Supreme Court Seminar, I never thought that Supreme Court Justices would pay much attention to the public reactions of their decisions based on their high-status, but I was completely wrong!

Exterior of Supreme Court steps with bright sun and clouds behind it.

Supreme Court Steps

What also made the trip fascinating is actually being in the city where all these decisions have taken place. On Thursday, we were able to tour the Supreme Court building which was absolutely astonishing! The part that was the most surreal for me was being able to sit in the room where the oral arguments take place. Some of the most important historical Supreme Court rulings, such as Brown v. Board of Education were announced here which is crazy to fathom!  It was even more surreal to realize that the oral arguments and rulings of the cases I had looked at the past week occurred in the very room I was sitting! This really made everything we were all learning in the Supreme Court class come to life in a whole new dimension.

Overall, I am very thankful for the fun memories from the Seminar trip to D.C. that I will always have, the many stressful moments related to academic research that has really helped me to grow as a scholar, and for the Richter Foundation for providing the means to make this academic experience possible! It was also an absolute dream to share this experience with the group of people I was with! Throughout the trip, we were able to laugh, share funny findings with each other, and support each other through the unfamiliar world of academic research!

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