When the government shut down in January 2019, Matthew Spalding had an idea.
A few Hillsdale students could not starting their internships in the federal government in Washington, D.C. Spalding, Kirby Center Associate Vice President and Dean of Education Programs offered his students to help Hillsdale Senior Journalism Fellow Mollie Hemingway on her most recent book, “Justice on Trial.”
“I literally had a body of Hillsdale students here, ready to work,” Spalding said.
A senior editor at The Federalist and former Pulliam Distinguished Visiting Fellow of Journalism, Hemingway has long been a friend of the college, Spalding said. The Federalist also records its podcast at the Allan P. Kirby Center for Constitutional Studies and Statesmanship, so Hemingway was a familiar face even before the book project began.
Co-authored by legal scholar Carrie Severino, “Justice on Trial” tells the story of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s fall 2018 confimation to the Supreme Court. Together with Severino, who used to clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas, Hemingway interviewed more than 100 key players in Kavanaugh’s confirmation process, including the president, other Supreme Court justices, and senators. Hillsdale students were able to assist Hemingway and Severino, and some were even credited in the book’s acknowledgements.
When part of the government reopened, Spalding said, most of the Hillsdale students in town returned to their internships. The Department of Justice was still not operational, however, so senior Alexis Nester was still without work.
Nester continued to work on the project with Kirby Center Research Assistant Krystina Skurk, a 2018 alumna of the Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship, and Solomon Chen, Spalding’s research intern at the time.
Skurk said she volunteered to help for the project because she felt it was important to correct the narrative surrounding the Kavanaugh confirmation.
“Honestly, it felt so amazing to be a part of this project,” Skurk told The Collegian in an email. “Every day on my walk home I would see this anti-Kavanaugh poster pasted to a lamp post. I couldn’t believe it was still there so many months after the confirmation battle, but it made me realize how monumental this fight was and how important it was to record what happened.”
Skurk, Nester, and Chen, along with senior Jackson Frerichs and junior Hannah Thullen, started work on the project when the shutdown started. A few continued working on the project all the way up to when Hemingway and Severino delivered the manuscript to the publishers, Spalding said.
On July 11, the Kirby Center hosted Hemingway and Severino for the launch event of “Justice on Trial,” which quickly became a best-seller on Amazon.
“Most political books aren’t very good,” Spalding told the audience at the book launch. “They’re mostly written by politicians getting ready for campaigns. This is not one of those books.”
Hemingway thanked Hillsdale students and the Kirby Center for the work they did on the book, which was published only nine months after the Kavanaugh hearings ended. The book, she said, was very thorough despite the short time period in which it was written.
“It took a lot of time. It took a lot of reading of historical records and what not. And we could not have done it without the Kirby Center here. We had research assistants and journalism assistants that were provided to us that were of great value, and we are so appreciative of them,” Hemingway told attendees at the event.
Hemingway also thanked Nester for doing some reporting for the book, and Chen and Skurk for their research assistance.
“We are so grateful for having those resources provided to us; we are very appreciative of that support,” Hemingway said. “This could not have been done without that level of support, and we appreciate it.”
Spalding said that being able to assist with “Justice on Trial” was a great opportunity for Hillsdale students who come to Washington, D.C., for the Washington-Hillsdale Internship Program.
“You know, these things pop up, and being able to have smart students who can do that kind of thing is a great opportunity,” Spalding said. “In particular, Mollie is a wonderful journalist, and Carrie Severino is a great legal thinker. It was a wonderful team and this was a real opportunity for Hillsdale students to assist them in their work, and they shined in helping them get the book done.”