What do Kansas Supreme Court justices do when they need a break from contentious school finance hearings and other tedious cases facing the state’s highest judiciary?
For Chief Justice Lawton Nuss and fellow Justice Marla Luckert, the answer Thursday was to go to school in Marion.
It’s not the first time Nuss and Luckert have hit the road together. The pair displayed natural camaraderie as they moved from a morning presentation at Marion Elementary School to a Kiwanis Club reception and luncheon, and then to the Performing Arts Center at Marion High School, where students from Centre, Ell-Saline, Goessel, Herington, Hillsboro, Marion, Peabody and Remington awaited them.
Nuss and Luckert were driving back Wednesday from a Tuesday evening court session in Hutchinson when they realized MES presented a challenge.
“I’ve never done it for elementary students,” Nuss said. “We thought ‘How could we hold their attention, what would be a good idea on how to present separation of powers on a basic level?’”
Accustomed to having days and weeks to write up decisions, the justices took less than a day to create an activity in which a group of students, acting as a legislature, would choose a school color. Their choice would be vetoed by the governor, which would then be overridden. However, the dispute would wind up in court to be settled.
Their last-minute curriculum plan was a hit.
“The teachers kept saying it was a simple way students could actually understand,” Luckert said. “It seemed to work well.”
Nuss and Luckert took turns describing facets of the judicial process to about 60 people who attended the Kiwanis Club luncheon, but switched modes again when faced with an auditorium packed with high schoolers.
Nuss began with humor and competition, directing students from each school to shout out the names of their mascots while interspersing clever quips that drew laughter from the assembly.
After a short primer on the judicial process, nine student volunteers came to the stage to recreate an actual court case involving a California law prohibiting the sale of violent video games to minors.
Both justices said they enjoy doing school presentations, in part because their legal careers took root in high school.
Nuss said that as a senior he was involved in debate and was selected for a weeklong educational trip to Washington, District of Columbia.
“This teacher said ‘Lawton, you do pretty well on your writing and arguing things and you liked your trip to Washington, have you considered law?” he said.
For Luckert, also a high school debater, the biggest influence in directing her toward a law career was a book.
“I read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and it seriously influenced me,” she said. “It just resonated with me.”
USD 408 Superintendent Lee Leiker was pleased so many other schools accepted the district’s invitation to participate.
“It’s a special event to have justices of the Kansas Supreme Court come to your school,” Leiker said. “We consider it a real honor that they chose to come to Marion.”