Scrutiny comes naturally when the public is afforded an up-close look at any institution, but the Minnesota Supreme Court held up very well in the local spotlight during this week’s business trip to Brainerd.
The nine justices heard oral arguments in a legal case and then answered questions from Brainerd High School students on Wednesday. On Tuesday they informally mixed with the public at a community dinner at Central Lakes College’s Brainerd campus.
Although the judiciary is far and away the least visible and least understood branch of government, the high court’s visit shed considerable light on its work and on how it goes about that work.
More than one Brainerd area observer marveled at the collegiality of these smart, opinionated and politically diverse individuals. The issues they deal with are potentially every bit as divisive as those before the Minnesota Legislature but the court strategically works hard at maintaining civility. No doubt, they are passionate about their ideals but they’re able to judge cases without the rancor that has become the norm in the political world.
If the good-natured ribbing they gave each other at Tuesday’s dinner was just a polite act then they’re very accomplished actors. They spoke of respecting contrasting viewpoints, professionalism and a commitment to fairness.
One justice, G. Barry Anderson, expressed pride in his background as an attorney, despite the popularity of lawyer jokes. Attorneys, he pointed out, can be found volunteering their time at a host of worthwhile organizations in most Minnesota communities.
The two-day visit made at least one observer wish the other two branches could learn a few lessons from the judiciary.