Sunday, July 25, 2010

Archives Treasure Hunts, Pre-Application Mode

Why not make it three in a row?--I apologize for having gone so long without blogging. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves re: my travels and instead fill you in on some stuff that doesn't appear on photobucket.

3 weeks probably wouldn't have been enough time to research and write a memo even half as long as the one I just completed, so I didn't receive another formal assignment. I spent the last few days researching an incredibly specific and obscure aspect of the Bank War, and this involved skimming over 200 pages of the Congressional Globe, which was a lot more fun than you'd think.

After I turned in a rough draft of my naturalization assignment a couple of weeks ago, I was asked to work on a small side-project regarding the issuance of paper currency and the development of a national banking system during the Civil War. In the course of this research I had no choice but to familiarize myself with the House and Senate finding aids, internal guides that allow one to locate particular boxes of Congressional records in the stacks. It was only then that I realized the full extent of the documents stored mere rooms away from my office: original bills (either handwritten or typed, usually depending on the era) and any surviving papers accompanying them, House and Senate committee documents, Congressmen's credentials, records from disputed elections, presidential messages to Congress, petitions and memorials (though I already knew about those), executive nominations, papers related to treaties, etc. I reasoned that even though the Vault is a repository of some of the most important documents in our nation's history, its holdings are quite limited, and there must be a lot of awfully neat items in the stacks that didn't make the cut.

Right I was. As I'm sure you've been able to tell from the pictures I posted last week, I've taken full advantage of the access I enjoy while I'm still here. Researchers can request to see just about anything in the Archives' holdings, but only employees and interns can pull and view presidential messages. I've stayed until 6-6:30 for a few days now doing just that. I've held in my hands communications from Presidents Jackson, Tyler, Taylor, and McKinley transmitting the Treaty of New Echota, Webster-Ashburton Treaty, Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, and Treaty of Paris (1898), respectively, to the Senate and recommending their swift ratification. I've seen and touched hundreds of executive appointments signed by Presidents Monroe and John Quincy Adams, and I've made it my mission to locate every Supreme Court nomination that's kept in the stacks. Quite a few trays of presidential messages (Jackson's, Lincoln's, etc.) have been moved from the stacks for what I presume are security purposes, and you'd be surprised how difficult it can be to figure out the exact date on which an appointment occurred; few web sites trouble themselves to make any distinction between the dates on which individuals were nominated, confirmed, commissioned, sworn in, etc. But I haven't been entirely unsuccessful, and I've learned quite a bit along the way. For instance, how many of you knew that Ulysses S. Grant nominated Edwin Stanton, Lincoln's second Secretary of War, to the Supreme Court mere days before Stanton died? Or that some nominations (including the first John Marshall Harlan's) were written in pencil? I'll have some mighty fine stories to tell in the years to come, and I've got the pictures to prove it. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity won't last much longer, and I'm going to make the most of it, even if it means no blogging for a while.

I helped with a Vault tour for one of Nancy Pelosi's daughters about a week ago. Speaking of Vault tours, I was able to book one for the group of incoming Bodenhamer fellows visiting D.C. in August. If they don't enjoy it, Professor Stewart sure will! Speaking again of Vault tours, after Congressman Gregg Harper visited in June, he told us that he would do all he could to get the Center's interns a tour of the Capitol dome before our internships ended. The man delivered: three of us (John didn't arrive until after our names had been submitted, unfortunately) get to tour the dome on Wednesday! Those pictures should be among the best I've taken all summer.

I'm eagerly/anxiously awaiting the release of law school applications. In the meantime, I'll start writing personal statements for each school (yes, I'm doing this the hard way) after I finish this book. And there's nothing like another application to distract me from tons of applications. I'm applying for an O[ctober] T[erm] [20]10 internship with s[upreme]c[ourt]o[f]t[he]u[nited]s[tates]blog.com. This is the sort of internship that makes a résumé scintillate and could open doors in the future. I think I'm just as qualified as any other undergrad, all of the work can be done remotely, and the timing couldn't possibly be better for me as far as fitting the internship into my schedule. *Crossing my fingers*

As always, thanks for reading! I'll be floating around in Nerdland until Elise gets here on Saturday (YAY!!!!!), and then I'll be spending my evenings seeing whatever she wants to see. I won't make a detailed itinerary for our Boston trip, but we're going to Concord, Salem, Quincy, and Cambridge in addition to Boston proper. We should have a great time.

Edit: I've dug up a few C-SPAN videos to help you put names to faces if you so choose. Richard Hunt, Director of the Center for Legislative Archives, delivers some opening remarks at http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/201142-1. Christine Blackerby (who works in my office), Jessie Kratz (across the hall), and Martha Grove (across the hall) speak at http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/288096-1. Charlie Flanagan, who also works in my office, begins speaking at 17:05 of http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/id/197659.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

An Eventful Week!

My apologies for going an entire week without blogging, but do give me credit for at least updating something regularly. I finished a rough draft of my naturalization assignment a couple weeks ago, made a few changes here and there, and submitted what I think is/was the final draft on Wednesday. I'll probably e-mail the file to myself from my computer at work and link to it here so those of you who are reeeallly curious about the history of American naturalization legislation will have something to occupy your time. I spent the rest of the week pulling particularly promising boxes from the stacks in the hopes of finding and photocopying original documents to accompany my paper (or just cool documents in general--only one folder in a box of mid-1870s Senate Foreign Relations Committee correspondence had any papers pertaining to naturalization, but that didn't stop me from perusing the others!). I've posted pictures of some of the cool stuff I found. Please see this if you haven't already. It may entitle Grannies to bragging rights.

I ended up going to Georgetown one week ago today. Georgetown isn't just a university; it's also a commercial area and up-scale neighborhood situated in the northwest quadrant of D.C. I spent about half an hour touring the university grounds. The campus was smaller than I was expecting, but it holds its own with UVA and UPenn. I could've mistaken it for a Cambridge college. I also located several historic homes (Georgetown's a VERY nice neighborhood) and spent some time inside Dumbarton Oaks. I toured Ford's Theatre and the house where Lincoln died (Peterson House) on Monday. Ford's is entirely a reconstruction, and the actual bed on which Lincoln died is on display in Chicago, but I still had a good time. The basement-level museum at Ford's is really impressive--a great supplement to the Lincoln collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History... or maybe the other way around. I went to the FDR and Jefferson Memorials on Tuesday, the Folger Shakespeare Library on Wednesday, the Smithsonian National Postal Museum on Thursday, and Oak Hill Cemetery on Friday.

Today's been relaxing and productive. I haven't done anything exciting, other than... you know... tour the White House. Visitors are only allowed to see select rooms on the ground and first floors of the main Executive Residence building (not the East and West Wings). I was able to peek my head into the Library, Vermeil Room, China Room, and East Room and walk through the Green Room, Blue Room, Red Room, and State Dining Room. No, I didn't see the Obamas--they're in Maine (where Elise and I will be in a few weeks!). White House tours these days are entirely self-guided, but the security guards double as historians (seriously) and are more than willing to field questions about the rooms' china, furniture, portraits, etc. One of the guards noticed my U of A shirt and told me that he grew up in Ft. Smith and attended Van Buren high school.

I figured out how to get to get to Mt. Vernon by metro + bus, so I'm going there tomorrow! I can't promise regular blogging from here on out, but I'll do my best. I plan on staying at the Archives after hours on at least a few days to look through old House and Senate records while I still have the chance. Now that I'm more familiar with the finding aids and know where to look in the stacks, this absolutely trumps further sightseeing, though I will spend time in the Holocaust Museum at some point in the next couple of weeks. Elise arrives on Saturday, July 31, and we fly from D.C. to Boston on Saturday, July 7. I've got some serious Boston planning to do, and don't look now, but most law school applications will be available online in less than a month...

Oh yeah--the folks at the Center insist that I put on a speed drumming display at Monday's 9 A.M. staff meeting. I'm getting too old for this crap :p


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Sightseeing

I apologize for the infrequent blogging--I've been too busy uploading photos for your viewing pleasure :) True to my word, I've been visiting at least one attraction per day and plan to maintain the grueling schedule until I leave. I'll comment on some of what I've done since the 6th.

The Smithsonian National Museum of American History is unbelievable. It's the most family-friendly museum I've ever visited, but things get pretty serious (seriously awesome!) upstairs with the presidential exhibits. Seeing THE Star-Spangled Banner was a nice surprise--I had no idea it still existed! The Smithsonian Castle (the original Smithsonian Institution building) is much more attractive on the outside than the inside. I was expecting something comparable to the interior of a cathedral, but there's not much more than a café and a gift shop. If you're into planes, military history, bombs, rockets, missiles, lunar modules, telescopes, moon rocks, orreries, or outer-space fecal bags, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is the place for you. The atmosphere enriches the experience immeasurably; it struck me as a cross between Johnson Space Center and Magic Kingdom. I thoroughly enjoyed my tour of the Lincoln Cottage at Soldiers' Home. The Cottage's restorers chose not to acquire furnishings from the time period, and so the tour guide emphasized the place of the Cottage in Lincoln's psyche and how it affected his experience of the Civil War. I visited Rock Creek Cemetery yesterday afternoon and Congressional Cemetery this morning--thanks for bearing with me as I spend my free time doing things that it's hard for others to get excited about! After lunch I briefly attended a "meet-the-scholar" book signing event with eight Lincoln historians at Ford's Theatre. I neither met any of the scholars nor had them sign books I don't own, but I took a good look around and snapped a few pictures. One of the authors wrote this book about Lincoln's use of the Cottage I visited yesterday. Later in the afternoon I finally toured Decatur House (and I was the only person on the tour!). The event coordinator at the House overheard me telling someone that I attend the University of Arkansas, and apparently she graduated from the U of A in 1989! Never thought I'd meet another former Pomfret resident in D.C.

I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing tomorrow. I hope I run into as many hilarious squirrels as I saw today.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Arlington, Fireworks, Rest, Art

I'll keep this short and sweet since I've uploaded probably a couple hundred pictures corresponding to the time period covered by this post. I didn't have much of a clue what I'd be doing for the 4th when I woke up that morning, but I eventually decided to hit up some famous graves at Arlington National Cemetery. Since most lists of notable interments at any cemetery are far too cursory for my purposes, my background research for visiting Arlington required sorting through all 1,297 names on this site, selecting the ones which most interested me, and plotting each individual's grave in a precise section of the cemetery on Google Earth using this map. The Findagrave site also provides the grave numbers for most Arlington burials, so all I really had to do once I came to a particular section of the cemetery was find certain grave numbers I knew were located somewhere within that section. Sound like fun? I thought so. Arlington's a huge cemetery--I spent at least five hours there and didn't have time to locate maybe a fifth of the graves I came to see.

I walked across the Potomac (like this) to the Lincoln Memorial and met up with my friend Brian from PKP '09. We had an incredible view of the fireworks show that began a little after 9 P.M., though riding the metro after D.C.'s July 4th festivities have concluded isn't something I ever want to experience again. I spent the 5th reading, relaxing, transacting for vittles, and putting the finishing touches on my first research memo. It took so long to write because it's the longest thing I've ever written. I might upload it for the internets's reading pleasure when it passes supervisory muster. I zoomed through the National Gallery of Art's West Building after work today; I've uploaded my favorites here. I plan on doing something different every afternoon during the few weeks I have left here.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Byrd, Capitol Tour, Archuleta, New and Exciting Old Documents!

Yesterday I walked to the Capitol during my lunch hour to pay my respects to Senator Robert Byrd as he lay in repose in the Senate Chamber. Byrd was, in many ways, a relic of bygone ages. His immeasurable learning and record-setting longevity have all but erased the mistakes of his youth and early career. No politician in the history of this country has been a more devoted student of the institution in which he served or done more to deserve the moral authority he commanded. Though it was certainly Byrd's time to go, his passing is a huge symbolic loss for the Senate. He'll be buried on Tuesday at Columbia Gardens Cemetery in Arlington, VA. I hope to pay a visit to his grave before I leave town.

On a lighter note, the four CLA interns toured the Capitol this morning. I was a tad disappointed that official tours only take one to the Rotunda and Statuary Hall (the Old House Chamber) and that we've no choice but to wear individual headsets and look the part of a tourist. The Rotunda and Statuary Hall were magnificent, though. Later that afternoon I went on a historic Senate rooms and corridors tour that includes stops in the Old Supreme Court Chamber and Old Senate Chamber. I enjoyed looking at Constantino Brumidi's paintings in the Senate hallways, but the docent spent so much time discussing what the place will look like once it's restored to its original appearance that she lost track of time and wasn't able to take us up to the Old Senate Chamber (which is also where the Supreme Court sat from 1860-1935). If you want my opinion, The Compromise of 1820, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the caning of Charles Sumner, Plessy v. Ferguson, Lochner v. New York, and Schenck v. United States are way more important than scraping off succeeding layers of paint to determine what lies beneath. I will see the Old Senate Chamber before I leave D.C., and the guide's carelessness will have inconvenienced me more than I care to blog about.

Johanna and I helped with two Vault tours today. One was for David Archuleta and Jimmy Smits, and the other was for Congressman Steve Scalise. Family members accompanied all three VIPs. In between tours, I was able to look at some of the other items in the Vault not normally shown on tours. How often does a guy get to see John Adams' appointment of John Marshall to be Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court? Once-in-a-lifetime opportunities are a dime a dozen around here. If any of you are interested (and if you're not, I strongly encourage you to work up an interest), click here to see the photos I took of those documents--with permission, of course.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Kagan Hearings, Day 3

The CLA interns (Johanna, John Lassere (his first day was Monday), Christine (archival intern), and I) got the hook-up for sure today--reserved-seating tickets for the afternoon session of Day 3 of the Elena Kagan nomination hearings. We got there just before 2 P.M., and three of us were able to stay until the Judiciary Committee adjourned at 5:30 P.M. The accommodations were made for us in return for the Center's having granted several Judiciary Committee staff members a Vault Tour a couple of weeks ago. (I hope regular readers find my jargon comprehensible, by the way!) I decided to create a facebook album for Monday's and today's photos, so I don't plan on uploading them separately to photobucket.

Attending these hearings has been everything I hoped it would be. Between Monday and today (Wednesday), I got to see the nominee herself, Senate Judiciary Committee members Patrick Leahy, Jeff Sessions, Herb Kohl, Orrin Hatch, Diane Feinstein, Chuck Grassley, Russ Feingold, John Kyl, Arlen Specter, Lindsey Graham, Chuck Schumer, John Cornyn, Dick Durbin, Tom Coburn, Ben Cardin, Amy Klobuchar, Ted Kaufman, and Al Franken, and several other distinguished personages, including John Kerry, Scott Brown, Neal Katyal, Bob Bauer, Valerie Jarrett, Tom Goldstein, and Joan Biskupic (and those are only the ones I recognized).

One feels real electricity flowing through the room when the exchanges are most impassioned (though the zeal is necessarily one-sided most of the time). There's something immensely satisfying about being able to join in the collective (though surely affected) laughter when one of the participants cracks wise. The questioners' hidden traps seem infinitely more ingenious, their verbal slips far more embarrassing, when one sits in their presence. I've seen video clips of nominees evading simple questions and extricating themselves from difficult ones before, but I've never actually witnessed their interlocutors' foreheads grow red with frustration. I'll always be able to say that I was in the same room as Elena Kagan at a moment when she wasn't familiar with the name Henry Billings Brown, though I would've been fully prepared to discuss the man's legacy and direct an interested tourist to his stately D.C. mansion.

Who would have thought that the Commerce Clause would become the conservatives' bête noir? That anyone would think that demonizing Thurgood Marshall would be a wise move politically? That anyone still cares about Calder v. Bull (1798)? That Senator Whitehouse would use his first few minutes to engage in a Socratic dialogue with the nominee (that seems to be the case, that necessarily follows from what has been agreed upon, etc.)? That Senator Grassley would pronounce penumbras "pih-NOOM-bruhs" at least four times? That Senator Cornyn would accuse Elena Kagan (perhaps rightly, perhaps not) that she provided "separate but equal" means of access for military recruiters at Harvard? That Senator Graham would opine on the absolute (as opposed to relative or circumstantial) meaningless of the term "activist?" That Senator Franken would imply that Footnote 4 of U.S. v. Carolene Products (1938) is an established, authoritative, uncontroversial cornerstone of American jurisprudence?

The hearing was sometimes tense, at other times full of levity, and an "intellectual feast" throughout (first one to identify the source of that quote without cheating wins 500 special-person points!). It was an absolute honor to attend, as was the case with the Supreme Court's final sitting of the term on Monday.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Heck of a Day!

So I was browsing the web on Friday night and read a few blog posts about the importance of the Supreme Court's sitting on Monday, the final day of its '09-'10 term. I really didn't give much thought to attending until Saturday morning, when I decided that I really should do everything in my power to get a seat inside the Court on Monday. It would be Justice John Paul Stevens' last day after 35 years on the Court, and I was at least somewhat familiar with three of the cases that would be decided. I felt bad about missing the new intern John's first day, but Christine and Natalie gave me the OK (thanks!!), and I dragged my friend Brian from last summer's PKP program into my twisted scheme.

I've been following the blog First One at One First recreationally since March. Mike Sacks, the author, is a 3L at Georgetown, and he made it his mission to be first in line for all of the Court's politically salient oral arguments of 2010. I believe he was upstaged twice, but the idea was brilliant, and his dedication was rewarded with some great press coverage. It's difficult to predict just how early one should arrive in order to secure a seat in the Court. I believe only 50 tickets are distributed to the general public on the days of major arguments. When McDonald v. City of Chicago was argued back in early March, a number of people showed up as early as the afternoon before the case was set to be argued.

I figured that with Justice Stevens' departure and the announcement of McDonald and three other potentially historic opinions, I should take my place on the sidewalk of One First Street by 6 P.M. at the latest. I ended up getting there at 5, and I was all alone until Brian joined me just before 7 P.M. Mike Sacks rode up to One First not long after Brian arrived and promptly snapped a photo of his usurpers. Other campers trickled in slowly throughout the evening. I think there were 8 of us in between the hours of 12 and 5 A.M. One was a recent Georgetown Law graduate who specializes in space law, and another just finished his third year at Duke. Both are taking the bar exam in July. Mike really is an endless fount of wisdom. He's an incredible conversationalist, and he's exceptionally knowledgeable about the history of the Supreme Court and of American politics. His F11F project has enabled him to pick up on the mannerisms of the individuals who compose the Roberts Court as few have; very few of his predictions went unfulfilled on Monday. I really think he'll be one of the great SCOTUS analysts of the next generation.

Brian and I literally slept (or attempted to... it was more pro forma in my case) on the sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court. The group did its best to stay one step ahead of the sprinkler system, whose operations the veterans are usually able to predict with a reasonable degree of accuracy. More and more Court enthusiasts began to show up shortly after the metro opened at 5 A.M. The bathrooms in nearby Union Station were open all night, thank goodness. The Supreme Court police begin to distribute placeholders at 7 A.M., and both Dick Heller (of District of Columbia v. Heller fame) and Otis McDonald (whose case was decided today) showed up not long before then. I also saw Pete Williams of NBC recording a short clip outside the Court shortly before the distribution of tickets.

As I'm sure most of you know, the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Elena Kagan's Supreme Court nomination began today and should last all week. After our coveted #1 and 2 positions were finalized, Brian and I walked two blocks north to pick up same-day tickets for a seat at the hearings, which are being held at the Hart Senate Office Building. I relieved myself at Union Station and then walked back to the Court in plenty of time to prepare to line up again, this time for our entry inside. I saw Tom Goldstein (founder of scotusblog.com and a well-known appellate lawyer in D.C.) pass by with a box of bow ties for distribution in honor of Justice Stevens. Shortly after 9, William Suter, the Clerk of the Court, paid the lucky crowd a visit and said that we would be going inside shortly. After passing through security, we placed our items in lockers and waited in the Great Hall to allow VIPs (journalists, members of the Supreme Court bar, family members, etc.) priority in entering. Being #1 in line has its perks: once in the courtroom, only a marble column separated me from Jeffrey Toobin for nearly two hours. I also sat mere feet away from other SCOTUS correspondents including Joan Biskupic, Jan Crawford, Nina Totenberg, Pete Williams, and several others I didn't recognize.

I wish I had the time and energy to write more about today's announcement of opinions. McDonald, the one most people came to hear, was handed down first and written by Justice Alito. No one really expected that the 2nd Amendment wouldn't be incorporated today, but McDonald will undoubtedly be a huge part of Alito's legacy. Justice Breyer gave a long (and I mean LONG) synopsis of his dissent. I was struck that he and two others felt that supervening scholarship justified a reconsideration of the core holding of Heller, which was decided only two terms ago. Justice Ginsburg next announced the Court's opinion in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. She was on the bench and read from her opinion despite the tragic passing of her husband yesterday. Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court in Bilski v. Kappos, a patent case I haven't found time to learn about, and Justice Stevens read from his concurrence. Chief Justice Roberts then delivered the last opinion of the term in Free Enterprise Fund and Beckstead & Watts, LLP v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, which I honestly find loads more interesting than the other three decided today, probably because I'm more familiar with it (we mooted the case in Dr. Schreckhise's class). Again, Justice Breyer read from his dissent. Mike's observation on his blog seems spot on: there's absolutely no doubt that Breyer is now the intellectual leader of the Court's "liberal bloc." His dissents seemed more aggressive and sardonic than usual. Chief Justice Roberts concluded the term by announcing the retirement of Frank Wagner, the Reporter of Decisions, and reading a letter he had written to Justice Stevens on behalf of all the other justices. Stevens responded in kind, and that's all she wrote.

I rode and walked home as quickly as I could, uploaded some photos, ate, showered, and put some nice clothes on for the nomination hearings. I went at just the right time--it's my understanding that groups are typically rotated in and out in 20-minute increments, but we were escorted in right after an extended break, and I was able to see Amy Klobuchar, Ted Kaufman, and Al Franken deliver their opening statements, John Kerry and Scott Brown formally introduce Kagan to the Committee, and the nominee herself make her opening remarks before the Committee adjourned for the day.

It's hard to communicate the day's excitement in a blog post driven by descriptions of events for the purpose of keeping friends and family apprised of my adventures, especially when the author has been awake for 35 hours, but I can't emphasize enough that today was unlike anything I've ever experienced. To have witnessed a Supreme Court term's final sitting (including the incorporation of one of the first ten Amendments), the retirement of a giant in the history of American law, and the Day One of a constitutionally prescribed rite of passage that will likely initiate another long and storied judicial career--all in the same day--is just plain silly for its utter implausibility. This is one of those days I'll never forget.