The Institute Report, June 2013 Page 15
Cadets Observe Supreme Court Proceedings
Fifteen cadets, led by Maj. Ryan Holston, left post well
before daybreak April 15 to get to Washington, D.C.,
in time to meet briefly with Associate Justice Samuel
Alito and his law clerks prior to oral argument.
The trip, offered through VMI’s Pre-Law Society,
presented a rare opportunity to see the inner workings
of the United States Supreme Court.
“It gets cadets excited about the law,” said Holston.
“If you look at the typical pre-law cadet, they’re
someone interested in public service. They have a
strong sense of law and justice, and going to the court
resonates with them for that reason.”
Getting a seat in the courtroom is notoriously
difficult, with crowds of visitors lining up early. Ted
North ’15 recalled visiting the court with his father,
hoping to see a case argued.
“We came here several times and stood in line, but
we never got in,” said North, who is planning a career
in law. “It was nice for Justice Alito’s office to arrange
everything for us.”
“We’ve had a surprising amount of contact with the
justices over the past few years,” said Holston. “We’re
fortunate to have relationships with some people at the
court.” Shelly Blincoe, of Justice Alito’s office, helped to arrange the
visit, including a meeting in Alito’s chambers.
Alito’s clerks briefed the group on the basics of the two cases on the
docket that day. The court heard arguments on whether human genes
may be patented and whether judicial participation in plea deals should
automatically invalidate a guilty plea.
“I thought the gene case was very interesting, and it was easy to
follow, too, which I didn’t expect,” said Cadet Virginia Bigelow ’16. The
arguments were rich in metaphor, with the justices comparing the human
genes in question to plants in the rainforest or ingredients in a batch
of cookies. “I expected it to be a lot of confusing terminology, but they
talked about it in terms that everyone could understand,” Bigelow said.
“I was surprised at how the court worked,” said James
Latta ’16, “When it comes down to it, they’re trying to
understand it in the simplest terms possible. I think that
makes it easier for them to convert it and present it.”
The case concerning human gene patenting garnered
in-depth coverage from national news agencies, giving
the cadets an opportunity to compare their own
experience with the accounts offered by news outlets.
In fact, on the ride back to VMI, cadets listened closely
as the course of oral argument was narrated on National
“That was special, hearing the transcript read in the
car,” said Holston. “That’s the kind of thing that elevates
the experience because it made the cadets aware of how
big the event they just saw was.”
In addition to hearing oral arguments, the cadets
enjoyed a guided tour of the building, during which they
learned about the history of the nation’s highest court
and of the building that now houses it.
“I was surprised; I thought the Supreme Court building
was older than this. It was built in 1935. That’s young
compared to a lot of the buildings here in Washington,”
said Marcus Love ’13. This was Love’s second trip to the
court, as he had the opportunity to sit down for a session
with Justice Clarence Thomas during last year’s trip.
Cadets learn about the history of the Supreme Court and the building
that houses it during a tour.
– VMI Photo by John Robertson IV.
Cadets meet with Associate Justice Samuel Alito just before hearing oral arguments
on the day’s two cases.
– VMI Photo by John Robertson IV.