MN Supreme Court convenes at Wadena Memorial Auditorium
Justices rub elbows with students at WDC
Wadena-Deer Creek (WDC) High School students had the rare opportunity to observe the Minnesota Supreme Court in action Wednesday morning when the court convened at Wadena Memorial Auditorium. The Supreme Court visit is their way of helping students and the public understand what they do.
The high court heard oral arguments in an actual case, State of Minnesota, Respondent vs. Antoine Rumel Little, Appellant – Case No. A11-2319, which originated in Olmstead County District Court.
Approximately 450 students from Wadena-Deer Creek, Bertha-Hewitt, Henning, New York Mills, Staples-Motley, Verndale, and M|State witnessed the oral arguments, which lasted about an hour. Since the auditorium was considered a courtroom, security was tight at all doors and entrances into the auditorium Wednesday morning. According to Wadena County Sheriff Mike Carr Jr., a dozen officers from the Sheriff’s Department and the Wadena Police Department assisted with security during the Supreme Court proceedings.
WDC Superintendent Lee Westrum welcomed the court and visitors, and introduced MN Seventh Judicial District Judge Mark Hansen.
Judge Hansen introduced the Wadena VFW Color Guard, who posted the American and State flags on the stage. Judge Hansen gave students a brief description of how the 150-year-old Minnesota court system is organized, explaining the difference between the District Court, the Court of Appeals, and the Minnesota Supreme Court, as well as how a case gets to the Supreme Court. Lastly, he reviewed with students the rules of decorum.
The court was then convened and heard oral arguments in the case. Each attorney had an allotted 25 minutes to argue their case. After the completion of the arguments, the appellant attorney was given five minutes to respond to the opposing party’s arguments.
During the arguments, the Justices actively engaged the attorneys, frequently interrupting the attorneys and asking them to clarify or defend their positions.
WDC senior Hope Theisen, 18, said she was impressed with how the attorneys presented their positions on the case to the Supreme Court. However, it was the Supreme Court with their wisdom and authoritative grasp of the legal system that she admired. Theisen is considering a future in law and she said witnessing the Supreme Court in action was an exciting opportunity.
“It was amazing to see what deep wisdom they have. For me, it was an educational opportunity I won’t ever forget. It definitely furthered my interest in pursuing a career in law,” Theisen said, who was one of 14 student leaders from WDC selected to escort a Justice during their visit in Wadena.
Students ask good-natured Justices a variety of questions
Following the adjournment of the oral arguments, the Justices left the stage and returned minus their black robes to field students’ questions. Each of the Justices gave a brief summary of their college and professional careers that led up to their seat on the Supreme Court.
Students were a bit apprehensive at first to ask questions of the high court, that is, until Chief Justice Lorie Gildea delivered a light-hearted threat: If you don’t ask questions, you will have to return to classes! That seemed to light a fire under the students. Over the next 40 minutes, a steady stream of students waited in line to ask the court questions on a variety of topics.
One of the memorable moments of the Q & A session, which revealed just how genuine and unpretentious the Justices are, came from a student who asked if any of the Justices could recite the “Preamble” from the Constitution.
Justice Wilhelmina Wright surprised students – and her fellow Court colleagues -- when she sang the Preamble based on the “SchoolHouse Rock” ditty from the 1970s. Students erupted with cheers as Justice Wright sang the entire 52-word Preamble from memory. The Justices and students gave her a standing ovation.
Students asked Justices what the best and worst parts of their jobs were; how much time they spend on research; have any cases, in particular heinous cases, affected you personally; how do you relieve stress, and their thoughts on legalizing marijuana (which they could not personally comment on).
Justice Alan Page spoke of the diversity of the seven Justices and their various backgrounds.
“You don’t want a court of seven Alan Pages. You want a court with diversity. That way, you have a better chance of getting [a decision] right,” said Justice Page, who at 68 years of age, is the eldest member of the court.
Following the Q & A session, the Justices were escorted to Wadena-Deer Creek Middle/High School by student leaders where they ate school lunch and chatted with students in the media center. After lunch, they individually visited classrooms to speak to students.
For WDC ninth-grader Morgan Sibert, 14, the Supreme Court visit reaffirmed her interest in possibly pursuing a law career.
“It was quite interesting. After today, I am even more excited about becoming a lawyer,” Sibert said, who listened to Justice Wright speak to her social studies class.
Sibert also credited Wadena attorney Dan Carlisle for preparing herself and her classmates for the Supreme Court visit. “He did a great job of explaining what to expect during the oral arguments and the role of the Supreme Court,” Sibert said.
In addition to Carlisle, other Wadena attorneys who visited Robby Grendahl and Brian Maki’s social studies classrooms last week included Paul Carlson, Sue Ann Lind, Don Niles, Matthew Van Bruggen and Malcolm Whynott.
Justice Alan Page reads his children’s book to second-graders
A striking figure in his signature bowtie, Justice Alan Page made a special visit to WDC Elementary where he read his new children’s book to second-graders, entitled, Alan and His Perfectly Pointy, Impossibly Perpendicular Pinky.
Politely declining to sit in a comfortable adult chair, Justice Page requested a student chair from Loni Niles, WDC media specialist. As he settled his large frame into the small yellow chair, Justice Page shared with his attentive audience of 80 second-graders how he and his daughter co-wrote the book about his disfigured pinky.
When Justice Page displayed his “perfectly, perpendicular pinky,” the students were stunned and amazed at this peculiar sight. Justice Page received an even bigger reaction when the book talks about Page playing for the Minnesota Vikings. This revelation created quite an enthusiastic buzz. “You played for the Minnesota Vikings?!” could be heard repeatedly by the youngsters. This was a generation who wasn’t aware of Justice Page’s former career as a professional football player. Page was a defensive tackle with the Vikings from 1967 to 1978 and a member of the notorious “Purple People Eaters.”
Page said his children’s book is a story about the child in all of us and about imagination. He said the book goes beyond simply a story about his unique pinky that was dislocated several times on and off the football field.
“Reading is critical. Anything we can do to interest particularly young children is vitally important,” Justice Page said, who is passionate about literacy and education. Proceeds from his children’s book benefit the Page Education Foundation, which he and his wife Diane, started in 1988.
‘Great day. Great message.’
After finishing their school lunch of Italian dunkers and turkey burgers, the Justices visited Wadena-Deer Creek classrooms individually, where students got chance to visit one-on-one with them. In the Robertson Theatre, Chief Justice Lorie Gildea and Justice David Lillehaug fielded a variety of questions and comments from sixth-grade students.
At the conclusion of Justice Christopher Dietzen’s classroom visit, he urged students to “pursue your dreams.”
“I never thought I’d be a Supreme Court Justice ... but I kept plugging away. Work hard and you will succeed in fulfilling your goals and dreams,” he told students.
After the Supreme Court finished their classroom visits, it was time to depart. The down-to-earth Justices extended warm handshakes to the 14 student leaders who had escorted them throughout the day. The Justices also extended a sincere invitation to these student leaders to visit the Minnesota Judicial Center and the State Capitol in St. Paul, where they hold court.
At the end of the school day, WDC Social Studies teachers Robby Grendahl and Brian Maki stood outside their classrooms, digesting the Supreme Court visit. Both agreed: What a great day! They were especially happy with how WDC students conducted themselves.
“We’re proud of our kids and how they handled themselves today,” Grendahl said.
“This was such a learning opportunity for our kids and possibly a defining moment for some of our students. Some may not realize it now, but in 20 years they will look back on this as a significant event,” Maki said, adding, “Great day. Great message.”
Both teachers credited Wadena attorney Paul Carlson for initiating the process of bringing the Supreme Court to Wadena and Lissa Finne, communications specialist with the Judicial Branch, who coordinated the details of the Supreme Court visit.
In addition, justices of the Supreme Court participated in “An Informal Evening with the Minnesota Supreme Court” community dinner for the public at St. Ann’s Parish Center on Tuesday evening.
The Supreme Court began convening oral arguments at schools in 1995. The Wadena visit marks the 38th in-school oral arguments for the court.