This past semester I took Legal Studies 116B: Civil Rights and Civil Liberties: Constitutional Debates. This course, taught by Professor Daniel Breen, explored the history and politics of civil rights and civil liberties within the United States. The course investigated an array of legal topics including privacy, equal protection, and racial discrimination. The course involved reading many landmark Supreme Court cases such as Baker v. Carr, Grutter v. Bollinger and Schenck v. United States. The most important lesson I learned from this course is the impact that past Supreme Court decisions have on the rulings of present-day cases. I learned this not only through lectures but by writing papers in which I would justify certain verdicts with backings from past Supreme Court rulings.
Learning about the longstanding importance of the verdicts of these cases holds much significance for me. As a student with a passion for history and politics, and with hopes to head to law school after Brandeis, realizing how important and enduring court rulings are reminds me why this is the career path I have chosen. This class taught me that case rulings are important for more than just one person because they set the precedent for future verdicts.
I am grateful that I took this class the semester before my internship with the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office (MDAO) began, as the lessons I gained from this class are helping me to navigate both my own tasks at my internship as well as the organization’s work as a whole. At many of our intern training sessions, the district attorney and various assistant district attorneys have talked to us about how important the work of the office is because the office has the ability to dictate the remainder of one’s life.
For example, the office has the power to put a person in jail or prison which, no matter how long the sentence length, can affect the incarcerated person’s life and the life of their family too. The MDAO has expressed to the interns that this decision is not something they take lightly. As part of expressing to the interns the weight of being held pretrial and sentence length, the program will be taking the interns on a tour of the Billerica House of Corrections (with the option of attendance over zoom or in person) at the end of the internship program. Billerica is a jail that serves Middlesex County and offers many different opportunities for prisoners during their time in incarceration. This opportunity is extremely unique and demonstrates how well thought-out the MDAO intern program is. They want us to understand the weight our decisions will have because, similar to court rulings, placing someone in prison or jail is an enduring decision that can affect many.
Although this tour has yet to happen, I am looking forward to the opportunity of expanding my knowledge of the government and the weight that legal decisions carry. The discussions about the importance of our work is something I try to remember everyday as I approach my daily tasks. I remind myself that no matter how big or small my assignment of that day is, it carries weight with it because it has the potential to change and influence the lives of many.