The Washington Semester


U.S. Capitol

In the Fall of 1959 (the first semester of my junior year), I attended American University in Washington, D.C. Thirty-one other students from all across the U.S. and I were in a unit of AU’s Washington Semester Seminar led by Professor Louis Loeb.

The objective of the Semester was to give us insight into our national government in action. We did this in various ways.

The Seminar was the heart of the Semester. We had meetings with officials who worked in or with the national government, assigned readings and interpretation sessions with Professor Loeb while we also maintained a journal of our activities and took examinations.  All of this was arranged around the following subjects: (a) Congress and its staff agencies; (b) political parties, pressure groups and opinion; (c) the President and the executive agencies; (d) international relations; and (e) the judiciary.

The second major part of the Semester was conducting an independent research project and writing a report on the results. Mine was “A Study and Analyses of Political Interest Group Participation in House Un-American Activities Committee’s Contempt of Congress Cases, 1945-1956.” I chose this topic because I detested that Committee, on the one hand, and endorsed the philosophy of one of its major opponents in such cases, the American Civil Liberties Union, on the other hand. In addition to doing a lot of general reading regarding the Committee and the theory and practice of political interest groups, I spent a lot of time in the Supreme Court Library reading the records in such contempt cases that reached the Court. I compared the briefs of the parties with those of the amici curiae (friends of the court) and the Court’s decisions.

In three of the four contempt of Congress cases that reached the Supreme Court in this period, the decisions were favorable to the views expressed by these interest groups even though the actual points in the amici briefs did not make it into the Court’s opinions. It was impossible to determine what effects, if any, their briefs had on the thinking of the justices or the results in the cases. The decisions in these cases did have some effect on the Committee’s giving notice to witnesses of the relevance of the Committee’s questions and its rejection of the witnesses’ objections. It was possible, at least in theory, to see how such participation might affect the interest groups themselves, but specific evidence of such effects could not be found.

In order to obtain additional hours of credit that semester, we had to take courses at night at AU’s downtown campus, just west of the White House. I took three such courses: American history, early political theory and the economics of public finance.

This semester was the first time I had ever lived in a major city. I thoroughly enjoyed going to museums, concerts and plays and seeing the beautiful and historic buildings of the city. I became acquainted with the general counsel of the Atomic Energy Commission, who was a musical composer in his spare time. I vividly recall going to a vocal recital in the living room of the old mansion that became the Phillips Gallery for performance of my friend’s songs with lyrics from the poetry of e. e. cummings.

At the end of the semester AU awarded me a scholarship for summer school at Harvard University. I, however, declined the offer in order to be the assistant to the Chairman of the Democratic Party of Iowa under Grinnell College’s Program in Practical Politics.[1]


[1] See Post: Encounters with Candidates JFK and LBJ (April 16, 2011).

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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