To pursue their study of leadership on the Supreme Court, the senior class of 2011 took advantage American University’s location in the nation’s capital to watch oral argument before the Supreme Court of the United States, the only public display of this branch’s important leadership.
Katlyn Miller, a class of 2008 Leadership aluma, arranged to have Justice O’Connor sponsor the seniors’ visit to the Court. Miller has been working for the Supreme Court for the last two years before beginning law school.
Leadership seniors watched the high court face two questions on January 12: Is fleeing the police in a vehicle a violent and aggressive offense? Can the police create exigent circumstances to enter a property without a warrant? The intensity in the room grew as the justices entered and took their seats. Without delay, attorneys jumped into their arguments.
“It was a great opportunity to be able to see the justices in action,” commented Kathryn Baxter, “knowing that we’re going to study these specific people in a few weeks really brought a new dimension to watching the arguments.”
Other students agreed with Baxter, and stated, “We caught ourselves paying attention to the interactions between the justices, and almost completely disregarding the arguments the lawyer was attempting to make.”
For the most part, the justices stayed true to their rumored forms, with Scalia asking most of the questions, and Kennedy revealing little of his position on the issue. Sotomoyor, however, looked less interested than Thomas, who appeared uncharacteristically aware of the argument. Chief Justice Roberts was the only one who looked fully engaged through the whole two hours.
Aside from the place of their seats, the only difference in their ranks was that Chief Justice Roberts was always allowed to ask his questions before another justice. It is said that the Chief is the first among equals, and it appears this Court has kept that tradition.
In class the next week Miller discussed what she had learned about the justices from her two years working at the Court. “They work as the ultimate team,” she explained, “even if, say, Breyer, knew he was filing a dissenting opinion, he would still give edits to the majority opinion writer.”
While the justices respect their differences in opinion, they hold their work and consequences of their decisions in such high regards to collaborate to make the strongest decision possible.
Andy MacCracken, former Student Government President, joked of his own leadership lessons, commenting, “If only we worked that well in our first year project groups, maybe we wouldn’t have had the final scramble to get everything together in time.”