SESP students travel to D.C. to see Supreme Court case

Olivia Bobrowsky

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It’s a Supreme Court case that has garnered national attention, from The New York Times to The Colbert Report, and it’s a case nine Northwestern students witnessed firsthand.

A SESP seminar traveled to Washington, D.C. last month for an unusual class trip that brought classroom lessons to life.

The students and their professor flew to the capital April 21 to hear the oral arguments of the 4th amendment case Safford Unified School District #1 v. Redding. The case was brought by the parents of then 13-year-old Savana Redding after she was strip-searched because teachers suspected she had brought prescription-strength ibuprofen to school.

“It was so interesting to hear the justices,” Medill senior Katie Ressmeyer said. “Justice Breyer was talking about hiding drugs, and he was like, ‘When I was in gym class I used to hide things in my underwear.’ So they actually have personalities.”

Although Breyer’s quotation is now well-known, Ressmeyer and her classmates enjoyed a level of access rarely available to the public.

“We were behind the scenes in a way that was really special,” said SESP adjunct faculty member Cindy Conlon, who teaches the Supreme Court seminar and led the students on the trip.

After the students viewed the entirety of the oral arguments, they went outside the chamber to listen to the press conference, where Redding, now 19, spoke for a few minutes.

“It made it more personal,” said Tatiana Rostovtseva, a SESP senior. “It was no longer this process that’s outside you, and that was really cool.”

The students were then able to personally question the National School Boards Association’s legal counsel at the organization’s headquarters, including the attorneys who drafted the brief..

The students’ relationship with National School Boards Association will extend beyond this trip. During the quarter, students coded 54 of the court’s previous oral arguments based on content, noting which kinds of questions each judge asked. The National School Boards Association hopes to use their findings to help write future legal briefs.

“(The trip) really brought to life the research we’ve been doing,” Ressmeyer said.

Conlon has already sent in a letter requesting to come back to the Supreme Court next year, and is still incorporating the trip into her class. On Monday, the students debriefed with Wolf and are currently making predictions for the trial’s outcome.

“We know everything about it,” Conlon said. “There aren’t too many people in the United States who know more about this case than the students in my class.”

Editor’s note: The original version of this article stated that the suit was filed on behalf of Diana Redding. Her name is actually Savana. The Daily regrets the error.