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Supreme Court justices mingle with the public

Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea (standing, left) is joined at a table by Lynn Jenc, community education director for the Alexandria School District (center) and senior Katie Kent at a community dinner at Alexandria Area High School on Wednesday, Oct. 4. (Karen Tolkkinen / Echo Press)1 / 2
People gathered for the chance to talk with Minnesota Supreme Court justices at a community dinner at Alexandria Area High School on Wednesday, Oct. 4. (Karen Tolkkinen / Echo Press)2 / 2

Minnesota Supreme Court justices swapped banter, personal stories and inspirational messages Wednesday night when they shared a community dinner in the Alexandria Area High School commons.

"We call it supper in Plummer," Chief Justice Lori Gildea quipped, referring to the tiny northern Minnesota town where she grew up.

Close to 200 people paid $15 to meet the justices, including area judges, lawyers, local officials and students. One law firm, Swenson Lervick, donated money so high school students who wished to attend as guests could. High school students also performed music, prepared and served the meal, and served as ambassadors to the justices.

Those present learned that Justice David Stras has a huge bobblehead collection, that Justice Anne McKeig is convinced her kids don't believe she ever says anything worthwhile, and that Justice David Lillehaug completely accepts that Alexandria is the birthplace of America.

They also learned that Douglas County Judge Ann Carrott lobbied the justices until they agreed to come to Alexandria.

She pressed her case for four or five years, said Justice Barry Anderson, until the justices finally consented.

"I would like to say it's on the merits," he said, "but it might be simply exhaustion."

In addition to the banter, the justices delivered a more serious message.

Gildea emphasized the court's "respectful, collaborative process," and the importance of the rule of law. Inside the courthouse is inscribed 17th century philosopher John Locke's words, "Where law ends, tyranny begins," she said.

"This is the terrible reality in many parts of the world," she said, adding that in these places, disputes are decided by force. "We don't often think how lucky we are to live under the rule of law."

Anderson alluded to the strife dominating the national conversation, and placed it in context.

"We tend to view these challenges as unique to our era," he said, mentioning the Civil War and the 1960s. He added, "There's always a crisis. ... And yet the Constitution and the republic endures."

The visit to Alexandria also includes hearing arguments in a case at the high school on Thursday, Oct. 5

The justices visit two high schools each year, one in the Twin Cities and one in greater Minnesota, and have since 1995. They hold a community meal and hear the appeal of a real case, giving students an intimate look into the workings of the state's highest court. The high courts in several other states conduct similar outreach, Gildea said.

Asked whether the U.S. Supreme Court might adopt the practice, she said immediately, "Wouldn't it be good for them? I think it would be great for them."

Lawyer Heidi Schultz, who helped organize the event, called it a "once in a lifetime thing."

"We're very honored that they would choose to come here," she said.

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