|Class gets first-hand look at Supreme Court
RELEASED: Jan. 20, 2005
DANVILLE, KYThere's no better way to learn how the highest court in the land works than to watch the justices in actionalthough you could make a case for having a face-to-face chat with a Supreme Court justice. During CentreTerm, Centre College's three-week January term, Jamey Leahey's class did just that. They visited Washington D.C., sat in on Supreme Court oral arguments, and had a question-and-answer session with Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court.
Before their trip, students in Leahey's "Introduction to the American Court System" studied its function, how judges are selected and how they make decisions. The 13 students from diverse majors then spent three days in the nation's capital watching the legal process in action. Not only did they meet with Justice O'Connor, who was Centre's commencement speaker last year, they also got to meet the Acting Solicitor General, the Deputy White House Counsel, the Deputy Assistant Attorney General, and the Chief Counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In addition, they met with and were assisted by the staff in Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell's office.
"This trip to Washington really helped me realize the importance of the federal judiciary," says sophomore Kate Bennett of Louisville, Ky. "The media focuses on the decisions of the executive and legislative branches of government. We explored the role of the judiciary as a separate government entity, and also how the judiciary relates to the other branches. Learning about the importance of the Supreme Court's role in interpreting the Constitution opened up my eyes to see the power of the judicial branch."
The highlight of the trip was a visit to the Supreme Court during oral arguments of a case involving a dispute between the CIA and two of its spies who claimed the intelligence agency reneged on financial aid it promised in exchange for espionage. They also heard arguments in a case involving the rights of Native American tribes in New York to purchase land. The students and Leahey were fortunate enough to have front row seats in the nation's highest court.
"It was certainly impressive and interesting to have access to the high level officials from the Department of Justice and the Senate Judiciary Committee," says sophomore David Kaplan of Belmont, Mass. "But the opportunity to have bench seats at the Supreme Court was extraordinary. The building, the Court procedure, and the presence of the judges all lived up to what I had imagined when I signed up for the course. From my experience there, I found the true impressiveness of our highest court is that one can sense its legitimacy immediately by watching those nine brilliant legal minds at work. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, as well as the other justices' ability to wrap their minds around a question, an issue, a legal brief, is truly awe inspiring."
Kaplan and the rest of his classmates had the rare treat to meet O'Connor and ask her questions about the court.
"My favorite part of the trip was getting to meet with Justice O'Connor," says junior Melissa Reid, a double major in government and religion from London, Ky. I enjoyed her straightforward answers. It's not her manner to tiptoe around issues, and I respect that quality. Justice O'Connor one day will be viewed as a pivotal ground-breaking historical figure since she is the first female justice to serve on the Supreme Court, and I'm grateful that I had the opportunity to spend a little time in her presence."
The students also had the opportunity to meet the Acting Solicitor General, Paul Clement, who litigates cases before the Supreme Court.
"Paul Clement has a very friendly and upbeat personality," Reid says. "He was informative and seemed to enjoy talking to us. By observing his performance at the Supreme Court oral argument, in my opinion it's obvious that he's one of the greatest legal minds in our country."
Lexington sophomore Andrew Weitze adds, "It wouldn't be surprising to see him on the Supreme Court bench one day."
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Founded in 1819, Centre College is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges. Centre alumni, known for their nation-leading loyalty in annual financial support, include two U.S. vice presidents and two Supreme Court justices. For more, visit http://www.centre.edu/web/elevatorspeech/
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