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Sharing Lessons Learned During a Year at the U.S. Supreme Court

Stephanie Newbold, left, with Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts, and Newbold's aunt and uncle Sabine and Steve Newbold, during her 2012 Supreme Court fellowship. (photo provided by Stephanie Newbold)

Stephanie Newbold, associate professor in Rutgers' School of Public Affairs Administration in Newark, is the newly named president of the U.S. Supreme Court Fellows Alumni Association

Not everyone eyes a mid-career fellowship as a college junior. Stephanie Newbold started thinking about one when she learned about the many fellowship opportunities throughout the U.S. government as a White House intern while an undergraduate at Elon University.

One fellowship stood out: “When I learned about the Supreme Court fellows program, I knew it was the one I would want to do,” says Newbold, now an associate professor in Rutgers’ School of Public Affairs and Administration in Newark.

Newbold, who also directs the school’s dual Juris Doctor/Master in Public Administration program, is the newly named president of the U.S. Supreme Court Fellows Alumni Association, a two-year stint as liaison between the alumni and the chief justice’s chambers. True to her aim, Newbold was one of four U.S. Supreme Court Fellows during the 2012 term, twelve years after her White House internship in Chief of Staff John Podesta’s office.

The selective fellowships date to 1973, when former Chief Justice Warren Burger created the program to bring varied professionals to study firsthand the administrative workings of the federal judiciary, how it interacts with other branches of government and to share what they learned with the public throughout their careers.

Newbold has done just as Burger hoped, folding her experiences during a year with the high court into her classroom teaching and publishing a paper on how sequestration – automatic spending cuts that go into effect if a federal budget agreement is not reached  – harms the judiciary’s ability to do its job.

“The sequestration battle was playing out while I was there, and I learned what it means to the judiciary when Congress doesn’t fund the courts at the level needed,” says Newbold, who published  Jeopardizing the Rule of Law: The Impact of Sequestration on the Administration of Justice in 2015 in the American Review of Public Administration.  “Indigent clients don’t get proper representation, probationary resources are cut, psychiatric evaluations don’t get done, money for jury trials is reduced. If the funding isn’t there, the federal courts cannot serve the citizenry the way the Constitution says it should.”

During her year as a Supreme Court fellow assigned to the Office of the Counselor to the Chief Justice, Newbold helped organize visits from international delegations to the court, conducting 87 briefings for lawyers and other officials about, in part, the court’s role and history, the justices’ responsibilities when they hear cases and how they determine which cases to put on the docket.

“Nowhere else in the world has that – a supreme judiciary that has discretion over which cases it hears,” Newbold says. “Lawyers from around the world come to the United States to gain a more comprehensive perspective about what makes the U.S. federal judiciary the best in the world.”

She helped organize President Obama’s second inauguration, since the oath of office ceremony is organized by the Office of the Counselor to the Chief Justice. She spent time getting to know all of the justices and attended lecture series, dinners and receptions for visiting dignitaries, conducted research and prep for the chief justice’s speeches, helped run the intern program and worked with other government offices that interact with the court. 

Newbold arrived at Rutgers in May 2015 after teaching at Texas State University, American University and University of Texas at Dallas. In addition to teaching a Ph.D. seminar on the legal foundations of public administration, a graduate-level introduction to public administration and directing the program for graduate students working toward a law and master’s degrees simultaneously, Newbold next year also will direct the Master of Public Administration program and teach an undergraduate class on democracy and public service.

“Professor Newbold’s research on constitutional commitments to our citizenry underlines the importance of a dialogue between academics and the public in terms of values that we should expect government to protect,” says Marc Holzer, dean of the School of Public Affairs and Administration in Newark.

Midway through pursuing her master’s degree in public administration at Virginia Tech, Newbold realized she wanted to be a professor and chart a career in research. She earned her doctorate in public administration at Virginia Tech, where she began her research on Thomas Jefferson and his influence on the development of public administration – how public universities and government entities are run in keeping with the tenets of the Constitution – that she turned into a book, All But Forgotten: Thomas Jefferson and the Development of Public Administration.

Newbold is currently writing a book on James Madison and his work to shape the American government after the Constitutional Convention.

As president of the alumni association, she will inform the network of fellow alumni about upcoming events she’ll help plan, including the annual February dinner at the Supreme Court for alumni and the four newest fellows.

When Newbold looks back on her time with the high court, she is struck by what “a special, dignified” oasis it is in Washington, D.C. She says she was reminded of the respectful professionalism that runs through the court when Justice Antonin Scalia died recently and his friendship with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was highlighted. “For them, it was never personal. They could be friends, have enormous respect for each other and still have different opinions,” she says. “What’s so interesting right now, in terms of Justice Scalia’s death, is the judicial branch is giving direction to the other branches about how to behave.”

She also remembers the best part of every day: “Walking up the Supreme Court steps every morning – that never got old.”