By EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Quincy native Will Meckes got a chance to broaden his understanding of how the federal government works by spending eight weeks this summer as an intern in U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin's Washington, D.C., office.
Meckes, a law student at Marquette University Law School, picked up some real-life legal experience while carrying out assignments for Durbin's legal staff assigned to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. Durbin is chairman of that subcommittee.
"It was a great experience," Meckes said. "My experience might have been a little atypical, because I was a law student."
While most of the 50 interns who work in Durbin's Capitol Hill offices each summer are generally asked to process constituent requests, help with legislative duties and lead tours of the Capitol, Meckes was doing some real work with lawyers who help Durbin prepare for issues that come before the subcommittee.
"He has five attorneys on his staff, and they kind of act as his legal counsel on pretty much any issue that he would encounter," Meckes said. "I would get assignments from the attorneys there and analyze issues, write memos, provide legal research, read cases sometimes and help in any way I could."
Since the jurisdiction of the Senate Judiciary Committee is broad -- covering anything from judicial and federal agency nominations to the constitutional implications of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility -- Meckes' assignments as a legal intern were "remarkably diverse," he said.
"Although I did have to pick up the mail every day, I also created documents that Sen. Durbin used during committee hearings and floor debates."
Meckes started his internship the week of May 13. That was the week the Senate Judiciary Committee was doing the markup for the federal immigration bill.
"So I was able to witness all of that," Meckes said.
He attended some hearings led by Durbin and several other senators.
"I made my C-SPAN debut briefly in the background," Meckes said with a laugh, noting how he was visible several rows back while the cameras focused on the senators.
"It was a fleeting appearance, but it was kind of cool," he said. "My mom got a kick out of that."
Meckes, a son of Steve and Cathy Meckes of Quincy, is a 2006 graduate of Quincy Notre Dame High School. He received a bachelor's degree in law, politics and society from Drake University in 2010. After spending a year working for a small law firm in Chicago, he enrolled at Marquette in 2011 and has one year to go before he gets his law degree.
As part of his preparation for a career in law, Meckes interned last year with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago and worked as a summer law clerk for 8th Judicial Circuit Court judges in Adams County. He also was an intern at the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago.
Meckes said interning for Durbin -- who as Democratic whip is the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate -- gave him some good insights into the lawmaking process that takes place in the political halls of Washington. This was intriguing to Meckes because "I have an interest in politics, and I wanted to see what went on in Washington," he said.
"Working on the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights has been a wonderful experience," Meckes said. "It's very rewarding to work on legislation that will impact the entire country. I think the experience will serve me well in my professional career."
In a press release issued by his office, Durbin said the interns who work for him each summer gain first-hand knowledge of the legislative process, learn about the inner workings of the federal government and develop research skills.
Durbin himself started his career on Capitol Hill as a college intern for Sen. Paul Douglas, an Illinois Democrat.
"I will never forget that day in February of 1966 when he agreed to hire me as an intern to work in his office," Durbin said.
"It was one of the most exciting things I had ever done. A student from East St. Louis, Ill., was going to work in the office of a U.S. senator. I know what a valuable experience it can be, and we strive to make sure all of our students get a glimpse into the workings of the United States Senate."