There were no robes, no gavels, no cries of “oyez” as they entered the Central Lakes College cafeteria Tuesday night.
The Minnesota Supreme Court’s community dinner in Brainerd showed the justices’ human side as they connected with a public which some say is largely uninformed about their branch of government.
Each justice spoke briefly to the audience, dispensing advice to college and high school students, teasing their colleagues about hobbies and emphasizing the importance of the civility and open-mindedness with which they try to approach their jobs.
Chief Justice Lori Skjerven Gildea brought out the human side of the state’s top jurists in her introductions. She claimed that she and Justice Helen Meyer constituted the court’s “cowgirl caucus,” a nod to their horse-riding avocations. Gildea’s introduction of Justice Alan Page mentioned his interest in long-distance running and tuba playing.
The court’s “Anderson caucus,” she said, included Justice Paul Anderson, a bicyclist, a girls’ basketball coach and a gourmet cooking club member, and Justice G. Barry Anderson, a baseball coach and host of a public affairs television which he claimed was “viewed by dozens of people.” Justice Christopher Dietzen was noted as a former cowboy and butcher who also a grandfather of 10.
The court’s junior member, Justice David Stras, was said to equally split his college basketball loyalties between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Kansas Jayhawks.
The justices split up and sat at different tables, mixing with students, attorneys and members of the public who were interested in their chance to dine with a state Supreme Court justice.
“I’m so happy to be in real Minnesota,” the chief justice said. “Outside of the Twin Cities, in other words.”
She said the visit to Brainerd to hear a case Wednesday before Brainerd High School students at Tornstrom Auditorium was one of the highlights of the court’s year. Gildea spoke with pride about being from Plummer, a town in northwestern Minnesota with “270 people, including my mom and dad who live there and it’s never far from my heart.”
Brainerd, she said, was one of the most vibrant and thriving destinations in Minnesota. Gildea spoke with pride of the exceptionalism of Minnesota and of its justice system, which she commended for its professionalism, its innovativeness and its commitment to fairness.
Page said he thinks the state’s judicial system is the best in the U.S., praising its efforts to be fair, impartial, to do its best and to “avoid exercising our will.”
Justice Paul Anderson described CLC as a “gem of an institution.” He said his travels to other countries have convinced him that America’s top qualities are its freedom and its education system.
“I’m at the point, if we don’t support education, I think it’s unpatriotic,” Anderson said.
The Supreme Court tries to serve as an antidote to the cynicism which prevails concerning government, he said.
Justice Meyer said the best advice she could give students was to be respectful of other views, celebrate that we aren’t all the same and “spend time with people who don’t think like you do.”
Her association with fellow justices was the best and worst part of her job, she said.
“Sometimes I’m right and they’re wrong and that’s annoying,” Meyer said.
The Supreme Court, she said was the stronghold for the ideal of respecting contrasting viewpoints.
Justice G. Barry Anderson spoke of his pride of not only being a judge but of having worked as an attorney who represented ordinary people with ordinary disputes. Despite the attorney jokes, Anderson ventured that the Brainerd community had several institutions which were successful because of the efforts of attorneys who had volunteered their time.
Justice Dietzen told the audience how much he enjoyed his cabin on Fish Trap Lake. He encouraged young people to find mentors who would encourage them.
“Pursue your dreams,” he said. “Pursue your passion.”
Justice Stras, who formerly taught at the University of Minnesota Law School, urged students to listen and participate and to make their experiences as broad as possible.
“Take advantage of the time you have now,” Stras advised.
Tuesday’s community dinner was sponsored in part by the Brainerd Lakes Chamber. The Aitkin-Crow Wing Bar Association paid for nearly 30 tickets which were used by high school and college students.
MIKE O’ROURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5860.