Two of the leading jurists in the State of Kansas held court Thursday in the Performing Arts Center on the campus of Marion High School before a crowd of several hundred students representing eight area high schools.
Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawson R. Nuss and Associate Justice Marla J. Luckert spent more than an hour describing the structure, history and function of state and federal court systems.
Nuss has served on the Kansas Supreme Court since 2002 and has been chief justice since 2010. Luckert, one of two female justices on the seven-member court, was appointed in 2003.
Presenting in tandem, Lawson and Luckert described the roles and jurisdiction of the various court systems to students from Centre, Ell-Saline, Goessel, Herington, Hillsboro, Marion, Moundridge, Peabody and Remington.
In the state system, district court is where cases are tried before a jury. If requested, cases can be submitted to the appellate court to determine whether procedural mistakes occurred during the trial.
Lawson said the role of the Supreme Court, whether at the state or national level is to determine if a piece of legislation or a lower court violate the state or federal constitution.
“Our judgment is not whether it’s a good policy or a good law or not, but whether that law is constitutional,” Lawson said.
The two justices engaged their young audience by involving them. They began by challenging each group of students to “to show us what you’ve got” by promoting their respective school mascot.
Later, they invited students to help them with role-play of a trial featuring an actual U.S. Supreme Court case. Eight students were recruited to serve as attorney, and one as the judge.
The case was “Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association,” which challenged a 2005 California law banning the sale of certain violent video games to children age 18 and younger without parental supervision.
The “attorneys” for each side of the argument read brief summaries of the key issues presented during the actual case, and then were asked to present any additional arguments they wanted to make.
One student “judge” offered her opinion on the case, Lawson invited the gallery to indicate their opinion whether the law was constitutional by giving a show of hands. A large majority voted that the law was unconstitutional.
Lawson then revealed the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled by a 7-2 margin that California’s law was unconstitutional because video games were protected speech under the First Amendment.
At the end of the role play, the two justices responded to questions submitted by the audience, and invited students to contact them at the Office of Judicial Administration in Topeka, where the Court does its work.
The justices even provided personal contact information and encouraged students to use it to arrange a tour of the facility, including the chief justice’s chamber.