Today was our last day working in the Library of Congress! I cannot believe how quickly this week flew by. Today my goal was to finish working in Justice Blackmun’s papers up to the case Lee v. Weisman (1992). To get into game mode for today, I listened to an oral argument on the metro into the city. I listened to the argument in Allegheny County v. Greater Pittsburgh ACLU (1989), which is a crazy case that I planned to spend a substantial amount of time on in Justice Blackmun’s papers today. The case has two issues: 1) whether a crèche display inside a County Courthouse violates the Establishment Clause, and 2) whether a menorah displayed outside the City-County building violates the Establishment Clause. Allegheny produced two different majorities for two different outcomes – the crèche was a violation of the Establishment Clause, but the menorah was not. This case is fascinating because the justices attempt to apply the law from Lynch, resulting in a convoluted outcome. Listening to the oral argument was a great way to prepare myself to evaluate this case in the papers because I could hear how the justices strategically asked questions to both clarify the law and reinforce their own views in Establishment Clause jurisprudence.
Once at the library, I worked extensively in Edwards v. Aguillard and Allegheny County, and then we had a surprise tour at noon given by the awesome librarian Jeff. Jeff gave us our orientation at the library and has been a super helpful resource the entire week. He brought us to where the presidents’ papers are kept in the library, which was so cool. The library has most of the presidents from George Washington to Calvin Coolidge. I was shocked at how these papers have been preserved for so long. Jeff showed us a paper saved by George Washington regarding a recipe for what are basically chicken nuggets but with beaver meat. To be honest, they didn’t sound very appetizing, but in the 1700s they were probably as good as McDonald’s McNuggets.
My favorite thing that Jeff showed us came from Justice Brennan’s papers. In 1990, Brennan saved a letter from the President of Harvard Law Review thanking him for sticking up for the “little guy” through the law. Come to find out, this letter was from Barack Obama, who turned down a clerkship with Justice Brennan. These little moments in history that are captured through the justices’ papers make the Library of Congress especially fascinating and provide a type of foreshadowing you cannot find anywhere else. I’m grateful I got to experience something like this hands on with my classmates.
To wrap up the day, we went to our restaurant from the first night in D.C., We the Pizza (the best possible name for a D.C. pizza place). Jeff’s family joined us there, and it was nice to end the trip with someone who has been so helpful throughout the process. After the pizza, we took the metro home and grabbed some Ben and Jerry’s before playing our final game of Secret Hitler. This intense, competitive game has been a highlight of the trip – it’s a great way to unwind with everyone after a long day in the library, even if it does get crazy competitive trying to figure out who the fascists are.
Overall, I am incredibly thankful to have had this awesome experience in our nation’s capital. Not only did I gain valuable information for my research paper, but I also had a great time while doing it.