In Session, In Awe
OMWC Scholar Spends Summer Watching History Unfold in Highest Court
By Julia Grant
Wednesdays of the University of Mississippi’s spring semester found me sitting in the Ole Miss Women’s Council office of Nora Capwell, discussing a recurrent theme: Where could I find an enriching summer experience? It was a topic I dwelled on with blatant anxiety. I longed to do something exciting and informative but believed I would never be accepted into the top-tier programs that captured my interests.
Now I find myself challenged to try to articulate how informative, impactful and life-changing my summer proved to be, all because Ms. Nora and others encouraged me to put action behind my dreams and apply for coveted internship positions. I listened to my mentors and applied to one program, in particular, that I often caught myself daydreaming about — the place that I couldn’t quit reading about, thinking about.
Four months later, as I walked up the marble staircase at the United States Supreme Court, it was almost impossible to contain the incredulity I felt for actually being there. During the first week, Supreme Court fellows ask the new interns what university they attend and why they applied to the program. Both of my answers were met with raised eyebrows and slight chuckles, as I confirmed I was an Ole Miss student who was there because “I liked to read court opinions for fun.”
Even though I was excited, my expectations were a little low. I thought the internship position would be on the periphery — after all, I was a mere freshman in the nation’s bastion of justice. Yet, suddenly, I was thrown feet-first into the world of petitions, briefs and court cases. Every night I read about the inner-workings of the judicial system just so I could stay afloat as the phones rang repeatedly, and I was asked countless questions that I would have had no idea how to answer only a few weeks earlier.
Then came the time every intern eagerly awaited — the days court was in session. Because I was there for the summer months, I did not get to hear oral arguments. However, not all of the opinions had been handed down for the term, and the justices typically reserve the most controversial decisions until the end.
Those Mondays in June were some of the most thrilling days I have ever experienced. My concentrated efforts were needed to appear nonchalant as I made my way across the throngs in the front courtyard: news reporters talking urgently into their microphones, concerned citizens joining the long line that snaked its way around the court, and dignitaries ranging from high-profile attorneys to U.S. senators walking briskly into the building. Just before 10 each morning, I would leave my desk and head upstairs to the courtroom, where whispers flew through the air about what opinions the court might release that day and speculation on whether there would be fiery dissent.
The marshal would open with the resounding “oyez, oyez,” as the red velvet curtains parted and nine of the most brilliant, influential Americans entered the room. I heard Justice Sonia Sotomayor read a scathing, pithy dissent; I listened eagerly as Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. announced the Court’s much-awaited and crafty decision on the travel ban case; I laughed at Justice Neil Gorsuch’s self-deprecating humor; I sat in awe over the history I was watching unfold.
I can’t quite express the feeling that would rise in my chest daily as I walked through the Supreme Court’s hallowed halls. It is an institution of dignity, humility, patriotism and righteousness. Its autonomy and integrity are distinctly American, and nothing else in my life has ever made me more proud to be one. Perhaps I never believed I would get the chance to be a part of it, but for 11 weeks, I was — no matter how minute and inconsequential that part was.
An unforgettable life experience was mine because of the continuing encouragement I received from the Ole Miss Women’s Council, a quirky pastime and a deep reverence for the structure of our judicial system and the nation itself.