Policymaking in Washington D.C.

June 26, 2015

When she arrived in Washington, D.C., on April 27, Olivia Franzen ’18 had no idea that the next morning, she would be inside the U.S. Supreme Court, listening to oral arguments in the marriage equality case Obergefell v. Hodges.

The Bakersfield native was in town as part of Prof. Greg Thorson and Prof. Kim Coles’ Policymaking in Washington, D.C. May Term course, which gives a practical introduction to the domestic and foreign policy making process in the U.S. government and allows students to meet with distinguished alumni living and working in the area. While out walking around that evening, Franzen discovered that people had been camping out for several days, hoping for a chance to get into the Supreme Court as the justices heard the landmark marriage equality case. Wanting to be part of history, she called Thorson, who said it was an exciting opportunity not to be missed, and joined the line at around 10 p.m.

“When I got to the Supreme Court area, there was a massive line,” she said. “People were there with sleeping bags and trash bags, and everyone was so sweet, sharing food with each other. I wasn’t ready for 40 degree weather having come from California, but policemen were giving out blankets and water. It was a huge community, and we were pro-marriage equality, a huge family of people standing up for something we believe in.”

Franzen spent the night getting to know the diverse people around her, catching a little bit of sleep, and taking advantage of being out in D.C. in the middle of the night. She left the line a bit to explore the city that would be her home for the month of May.

“I got to walk around the Capitol at 2 a.m. in the morning and admire the view with the lights,” she said. “It was really beautiful and really special.”

At 6 a.m., police woke everyone up to get them ready to enter the Supreme Court, and at about 8 a.m., protesters against same-sex marriage began to arrive.

“That rallied everyone,” she said. “The protesters were preaching and handing out Bibles, and we had oral arguments with them. It was so fun.”

The first 100 people in line were guaranteed seats in the chamber, and the next 100, including Franzen, were able to watch on a rotating basis, spending three minutes a piece inside. After going through security, Franzen was seated in a wooden chair behind the chamber.

“It felt like such an incredible experience,” she said. “The echo of the justice’s voices fluttered over everyone silently listening. It felt magic. It was so professional and intense and everybody was so engaged with what everyone was saying. Public opinions were being spoken to the justices, who reciprocated with their questions and validations.”

Franzen was sitting behind columns that obstructed her view, so while she couldn’t see much “I was able to hear what was being said, and that’s what really mattered.” About a minute into Franzen’s time, as “the chief justice, without saying it outright, basically validated that marriage is pretty much constitutional,” a man started to shout, and security guards rushed past her to escort him out of the chambers.

“While they were dragging him away, he started to grab me,” she said. “He was kicking and screaming, saying God was going to send his wrath. That was interesting.”

The three minutes went by quickly, but Franzen was grateful for the opportunity.

“I was extremely blessed I got the three minutes,” she said. “I know that if I could have all of my friends experience that, I would. I would have liked to have been there the whole time, but I was very thankful that I was able to get a snippet. I’m definitely going to try to keep up on the Supreme Court and its events, and hopefully one day get to listen to them debate.”

Since going to the Supreme Court, Franzen has enjoyed several other only-in-Washington moments with the rest of her May Term classmates. She is studying public policy with a concentration in foreign policy, and one of her favorite issues is renewable energy and the switch that the U.S. — and likely the rest of the world — will be doing soon. Over one weekend, she attended the Hudson Institute, and learned about alternative fuels and ways to implement them in society.

“I’ve also met a few people who gave me their cards and said to reach out when I graduate and looking for a career,” she said. “I made so many great contacts, so when it does come time for me to get an internship, it’s going to be a walk in the park.”

Franzen has enjoyed every experience she’s had in Washington, and is glad that she followed Thorson’s recommendation and enrolled in the course.

“The amount of alumni in D.C. is just absolutely phenomenal, and they have a fantastic range of careers,” she said. “I love that I get to meet them all and listen to their experiences since graduating from the University. I am very thankful to Prof. Thorson and Prof. Coles for the amount of work they put into the program and how helpful it is, and also to my parents for sending me on such an incredible and rare experience. I don’t think you could this with any other university.”

Written by: Catherine Garcia '06