Honors Course Reflections

Lizzie Klink: Blog 2

Today I was a hero. As we were getting off the metro to go back to the luxurious Comfort Inn Ballston, Paxton realized that he had accidentally left his phone on his seat. Fast-forward forty-five minutes later, and Grayson taking four subways, I was able to get in contact with the man who found Paxton’s phone. Hopefully this charitable act provides me with good karma, and I am able to meet one of the Supreme Court justices tomorrow (this did not happen).

The Apotheosis of Washington by Constantino Brumidi in the ceiling of the Rotunda of the Capitol Building. The painting in the eye of the rotunda depicts George Washington rising to the heavens in glory, flanked by female figures representing Liberty and Victory/Fame and surrounded by six groups of figures.

The Apotheosis of Washington by Constantino Brumidi in the ceiling of the Rotunda of the Capitol Building

Now, back to business. One of the most worth-while parts of this trip is that it has taught me how to actually conduct research and stay focused for an entire eight-hour day. Besides the occasional Con Law exam, rarely am I required to sit down in one spot and focus for more than a three-hour period. I will admit, the first morning I was so overwhelmed and the thought of doing this every day a week seemed daunting. Once I got the hang of the language and reading, however, I found myself looking up at the clock and wondering where the time went.

This was especially true for cases where Justice Blackmun kept the conference notes. Blackmun’s handwriting is incredible difficult to decipher, but once I was able to, I could tell from the conference notes describe what each justice is thinking. This is interesting to examine, because over the term I am able to see how their thoughts on the cases grow and develop. For example, in Blackmun’s first reproductive case I looked at, US v. Vuitch, I could tell by his conference notes that Blackmun was struggling with whether or not the Court had jurisdiction over this case. Eventually, by the time Justice Harlan circulates his dissenting opinion, Blackmun joins Harlan’s dissent.

One thing that I am nervous about is figuring out how I want all of the research I found to fit into my paper. For example, right now it feels like I could write an entire thirty-page paper just on the influence that Blackmun’s prior experience as council to the Mayo clinic had on his construction of the majority opinion of Roe. Alternatively, I feel like I would easily be able to write another fifty-page paper about the influence that Justice William Brennan had on Blackmun and the other justices.

It is extremely easy to get wrapped up reading the correspondence, newspaper clippings, clerk reports, etc. even when they do not directly relate to my topic. Forcing myself to stay on track while I have been at the library has been a little difficult, because there are so many interesting articles that I want to read.  My goal for when I go back to campus is to sit down and organize my research into different categories, such as outside pressure, internal pressure, past experiences, etc. I guess I’ll worry about that when we’re back there.

5 velvet red chairs behind dark wood desks with red velvet curtains framing them. A gold eagle statue is mounted above the curtains.

Old Senate Chamber room in the Capitol building. This room served as the Supreme Court Chamber from 1860 until 1935.

One part of the trip that I want to highlight is our trip to the Supreme Court yesterday. I have been to D.C. a handful of time, but I have never been into the Supreme Court. In fact, until I took Professor Kobylka’s class that I had ever actually thought about the Court. Truthfully, I could not have told you how many justices were on the Court this time last year.

First of all, the Supreme Court is an extremely stately, beautiful building. Every detail is completely intentional. For example, the tour guide pointed us to the courtyard, which contained many symbolic animals and statues. The coolest part of the tour was being able to sit in the seats where members of the Supreme Court bar hear oral arguments. It’s hard to imagine how intimidating it must be arguing a case in front of the Supreme Court, especially because after having read Blackmun’s notes from oral arguments where he would grade the attorneys.

Alright well, it’s time for me to go downstairs and beat everyone, including Professor Kobylka, in a game of Secret Hitler.

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