Works and Days

On Life, Learning, and the Law: an interview with Kali Borkowski, Class of 2010

Kali is the manager of SCOTUSblog, a successful blog with a small staff dedicated to covering United States Supreme Court cases without bias. Kali manifests the spirit of Reed’s liberal arts education, and illuminates that practicing the perspective of “learning for the love of learning” has tangible, real-world value.

MW: Tell me a bit about what you do as manager of SCOTUSblog?

KB: I coordinate the content of the blog. The Supreme Court hears about 80 cases each year and we cover all of them. We also select about a dozen issues that we believe will have broad appeal and we have symposia, that I curate, on those topics.

MW: How did you become interested in this line of work?

KB: Hard to say. I wasn’t interested in Supreme Court blogging specifically. I was interested in going to law school; I was on Judicial Board and while I was at Reed I intered for the Public Defender Service in DC and then after I graduated I worked at the District Attorney’s office in San Francisco.  From those experiences, I figured out I didn’t want to do criminal law, but I did want to explore a different facet of law. I didn’t know what.

MW: So how did you end up with your current position?

KB: David Gossett, a Reed Alumni and Supreme Court litigator, had posted on the BCOP (Beyond Campus Opportunities) email list that another Supreme Court litigator he knew, Tom Goldstein, was looking for an assistant. I had a brief phone conversation with David to learn what he knew about the position and Tom, and then I got really excited about the job, applied, and a few weeks later I moved from San Francisco to DC and started work.

MW: What at Reed do you feel set you up and assisted you in getting to where you are today?

KB: I can’t think of a direct connection between something I did at Reed and the specific direction I took. Reed provides the opportunity to do the opposite of what pursuing a job demands. You get to explore things outside the realm of instrumental rationality. Reed gives you the unique opportunity to learn to find beauty in ideas. You’re given the chance to transcend the tedium the very end-directed thinking that a job requires. At Reed, you can’t think this way— you’re forced to stop thinking instrumentally about where a certain act can take you. I didn’t do well in a lot of classes I took, but I challenged myself, which is a lot more valuable than where any of those individual classes could have taken me.

MW: What were the classes you took that taught you, and challenged you, the most?

KB: I took almost every class Mark Hinchliff  (philosophy) taught. Mark really taught me how to think. I think about my thesis every week. Not the bound text, but the ideas. I also took dance classes. For a period of time after I left Reed I wished I’d taken more academic classes in place of dance. What a stupid choice. You just move around, right? But now, after, I have a totally different perspective. Moving non-instrumental movement is a corollary to non-instrumental thought.  I try to remember to just let my mind relax sometimes and focus on being physically present (a challenge for Reedies).   

MW: What do you think is the biggest setback for Reedies in achieving success beyond Reed?

KB: People at Reed are really interesting, because they are curious. But they have this tendency to be constantly working on a theory of everything. They try to link everything, find connections across all the classes they are taking and all the ideas they are having. But then they end up making no sense, even to themselves. I think Reed helps students learn to narrow, and make their ideas communicable to people outside their own head. Mark Hinchcliff was very good at figuring out how to bring things down; taking the momentum of the universe and bringing it down into a sentence. Reedies have to narrow, and really, you can’t make a wrong decision (in choosing your major).

MW: Is there anything else you’d like to add? Anything you think the Reed community should hear?

KB: I’ve been thinking lately about what this artist, Chuck Close, said about how he works. He paints faces, and he is face blind. He says the benefits of how he works on his paintings is that it’s the same as the way people make quilts— Quilt makers work on a little bit at a time, doing just a section each night, and eventually they have a whole quilt. I don’t know if this is helpful, it’s just something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. You can get overwhelmed trying to do everything; you have to just take on a little bit at a time, like making a quilt.


Tags: scotusblog, supreme court, law, blog, learning, life of the mind, alumna