By Richard Chung, Spring 2017 BJC intern
As an intern for the Baptist Joint Committee, I was able to learn more about religious freedom and meaningfully contribute to our mission to protect religious liberty for all. In addition to assisting with the everyday operation of the BJC, I had the opportunity to hand-deliver letters opposing the politicization of churches to members of Congress and sit in on a congressional hearing about school vouchers. I also had the chance to attend Supreme Court oral arguments in person, which was especially exciting since I start law school in the fall.
The courtroom, imposing and ornate, was smaller than I imagined, and it had seating for perhaps a couple hundred at most. I was led to the left side of the courtroom to chairs placed between massive pillars. Finally, after a short wait, we heard the marshal of the court announce “Oyez,” and we stood as the justices took their seats to hear two cases that day.
As the first case began, I realized what a privilege it was to observe the Court in action. While I could get a sense of a justice’s personality by reading his or her opinions, it was a completely different experience seeing them participate in oral arguments. Everything from their body language to their tone to the questions they asked and hypotheticals they posed gave insight into the personalities behind the highest court in the land. For instance, Justice Clarence Thomas often leaned back in his chair and never said a word, while Justice Stephen Breyer, sitting next to him, at times seemed to lecture the attorneys in addition to posing questions.
After getting over my initial excitement, I was able to focus on the arguments themselves. The oral arguments contained demonstrations of brilliant intellect, such as when justices debated the rules of statutory interpretation, and moments of levity, as justices attempted to understand the ever-changing technology of social media in one case. Justice Elena Kagan had the punchline of the day when she asked, “There’s a constitutional right to use Snapchat, but not to use Twitter?”
Although the oral arguments lasted over two hours, the time flew by. It was a dream come true and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I left even more inspired to pursue a career in law and advocate for the public interest.
A 2016 graduate of Yale University, Chung will attend the NYU School of Law this fall.
Interested in being an intern at the Baptist Joint Committee? The program provides a stipend and housing in D.C., and it is open to undergraduates and graduates. The deadline to apply for the fall semester is June 30. Visit BJConline.org/internships for details.