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ND study-abroad students meet Chief Justice Roberts

Meg Handelman | Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Notre Dame students studying abroad in Washington, D.C. experienced the opportunity of a lifetime Monday when they met Chief Justice John Roberts of the United States Supreme Court.

“The meeting was unforgettable,” sophomore Matthew Mleczko said. “[Chief Justice Roberts] immediately had us take our seats and before we knew it, he was sitting a few feet from us, happily sharing his knowledge and passion of the institution with us.”

Junior Patrick Grimmer said the meeting was particularly special for him since Chief Justice Roberts is the most famous alumnus of his high school, La Lumiere High School.

“I was a member of the first class at La Lumiere after his nomination and confirmation [as Chief Justice], so he always cast a big shadow and we were expected to live up to the standards of excellence he set,” Grimmer said. “It was special to meet him.”

The opportunity to hear Roberts discuss the process of preparing for his confirmation hearing was the most interesting part, junior Mia Counts said.

“I never really realized just how extensively you need to prepare for the hearings,” Counts said. “Chief Justice Roberts studied minute details of the law for months on end and compiled a team to test him and ask him questions, creating hearing simulations.”

The most memorable part of the meeting, Mleczko said, was the stories shared about Chief Justice John Marshall.

“As he talked about the man whom he so admired, he also gave us a glimpse into his judicial philosophy and the legacy he is trying to leave behind,” he said. “We were, in essence, speaking with our generation’s Chief Justice Marshall.”

Chief Justice John Roberts also spoke about Supreme Court history, sharing stories about former Supreme Court chief justices, Mleczko said.
“He spent most of his time with us answering questions,” Mleczko said. “Considering his position in the government, it’s incredible that he spent a good 30 minutes with us.”

During their meeting, Counts said the students had the opportunity to talk to Roberts about a range of topics, and she said she was surprised by the informality of the meeting.

“He is an obviously intelligent, driven man with an excellent poker face,” she said. “He never let on if he thought our questions were dumb.”

Grimmer said Roberts also discussed the politicization of law through judicial nominations.

“He argued that the current system of nomination and confirmation could change so as to avoid rampant political posturing through court nominees,”  Grimmer said.

The focus of Grimmer’s trip to Washington, D.C. was an internship. He said his experience has helped him obtain insight into the professional world while still maintaining his status as a student.

“I feel it is an underrated program, as many students desire to go overseas but ignore the practicality and convenience of living in such a fascinating city,” Grimmer said.

The trip to Washington was truly memorable because of both the class and work experiences that have helped mature the students politically, Mleczko said.

“I’ve whole-heartedly enjoyed every minute of my time as a Notre Dame student, but studying in D.C. has arguably been the most formative semester so far,” Mleczko said. “I’ve gained insight from professionals in policy areas that I hope to someday pursue.”

Mleczko said his experiences advocating for budget provisions on Capitol Hill and coordinating advocacy campaigns with other nonprofit leaders helped him discern his future career plans.

“I believe I am leaving D.C. with direction and that direction is really, really valuable,” he said.

But the memorable meeting with Roberts was one of many opportunities that has made studying abroad in Washington a valuable experience for Notre Dame students, Mlezcko said.

“To be addressing the chief justice of the United States, a man who has been building quite the judicial portfolio in the past few years, was sort of an out-of-body experience,” Mlezcko said.

Contact Meg Handelman at mhandelm@nd.edu