Justice Kennedy on Education

C-SPAN covered the July 31 Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference where Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy spoke. The video is available here (RealPlayer). Orin Kerr linked to it because Kennedy discusses, briefly, the Heller decision, but this part is what caught my attention, starting at about 28 minutes in:

We went at the request of the State Department to Poland, and I asked as I always do if I could please meet with the faculty at the law school. So we met the faculty of the law school in Warsaw, and, um, they told me ahead of time that I couldn’t address the students because it was the second or third week in September and the students were not to come until the following week, which disappointed me. But they had the faculty meeting, so that I could talk about curriculum and meet the faculty.

Well, halfway through the meeting, somebody comes in and says “Oh, Justice Kennedy, we forgot. Our entering law students are here today for an orientation and they want to hear you.” Now, these are basically High School seniors, just entering the University, and um, there’s maybe ninety of them in the room, they speak excellent English – Polish is a secret language anyway. (Laughter) So went out, “I’m Justice Kennedy of the Supreme Court here to tell you about the Constitution. . .” and, uh, they know that I solicited questions at the outset, and asked to be interrupted, and uh, as I was talking about the Federal structure, and the structure of the national government. And a student raised her hand and said “Now, the President checks the Congress, and the Congress checks the President, what is it that checks the courts?” Very good question, so we talk about that.

There’s a discussion I’d have liked to listen in on.

And then another student says “Now federalism, you think federalism is very important, but, you know a lot of money goes to Washington and then goes back to the states with conditions on it. Doesn’t that undermine the sovereignty of the states?” (Kennedy shows a stunned look to the audience, drawing laughter.)

So, I, I, g-go on with this, and I, the discussion is very good. A third student raises. . . I think it was a lady, raises her hand and says “Were Chief Justice John Marshall’s opinions all popular when he wrote them?”

And I said, “Wait a minute.” (Laughter) I said, “You’ve, you’ve planned this, Das ist ein schwindel, this is a trick!” (More laughter) Um, and they said “No, no, you don’t understand! We’ve been trying to design our Constitution for fourteen years, and we’ve studied American legal and American Constitutional history since the fourth grade.”

(My emphasis.) Get your attention? It got mine.

It gets better.

I told Mary afterwards, I said “If I’d had that class at Princeton or Duke or Stanford,” I said, “I would’ve come home and told you ‘It’s a great class!'” I said, “These are High School students!” So we told the same story that night at the dinner where the Provost was. He said, “Well, it’s, it’s. . . That’s true. But the other thing they didn’t mention; we can’t say anything good about the Communists – they wrecked us for probably a hundred years – but there was one fallout of what they did. If you wanted to be a doctor, an architect, an engineer, a physician, you didn’t have the opportunity to go into that profession, so you went into teaching. And for fifty years we had the best teachers in the world, and you’ve seen the product.”

Here we get the George Orwell Daycare Center and High School seniors who wouldn’t recognize the Constitution if someone burned a copy in front of them.

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