Michigan justices get back on the road again

The Michigan Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments before more than 400 students as part of its 27th Court Community Connections visit.

The outreach program, which has previously been held at locations ranging from Detroit to Grand Rapids to Sault Ste. Marie, is aimed at engaging high school students in learning about the judicial branch, especially the appellate system.

“Our goal is to leave you better informed about the rule of law and its role in our constitutional republic,” said Chief Justice Elizabeth T. Clement in opening remarks at the event held at the Cheboygan Opera House. “My hope is that as a citizen of your community, you’ll remember this experience. Our form of government can only survive if its citizens stay informed and involved.”

Students represented more than a dozen Michigan schools — Bishop Baraga Catholic School, Cheboygan High School, Cornerstone Christian School, Gaylord High School, Inland Lakes Secondary School, Inverness Academy, LaSalle High School, Mackinaw City High School, Northern Michigan Christian Academy, Onaway High School, Presque Isle Academy, Rogers City High School, Traverse City West Senior High School, Vanderbilt Area Schools and Wolverine Community Schools.

In welcoming the justices, Cheboygan County Circuit Court Chief Judge Aaron Gauthier noted that the Michigan Supreme Court was a key motivator in the building of the Mackinac Bridge.

“At the northmost tip of our county sits the mighty Mackinac Bridge, connecting the two peninsulas of our Great Lakes State,” he said. “What some of you might not know is that one of the men instrumental in the creation of that bridge was a U.P. lawyer named Prentiss Brown, who once missed an argument before the Michigan Supreme Court, his efforts to reach Lansing stymied by the Straits of Mackinac’s winter ice.

“He later recalled, “That bitter hike made a lasting impression on me for the need of a bridge across the straits.’ We’re all glad that his vision became reality, but I’m also pretty sure that he would’ve been pleased to have seen the Supreme Court venture out of Lansing to hold court in different locations around the state, including northern Michigan.”
Building on Clement’s leadership on Michigan’s Juvenile Justice Reform Task Force, this year’s organizing efforts paid particular attention to including students from alternative schools.

With the help of former Cheboygan County Probate and Family Court Judge Robert J. Butts, the program was a celebration of a new avenue of stewardship to students in nontraditional education, focused on the social, emotional, behavioral and academic needs of all students.

The court started the Court Community Connections program in 2007 as a public education program aimed principally at high school students.

To prepare for oral argument, students meet with local attorneys who discuss the case that the justices will hear — People of MI v Candace Guyton. After the argument, students participate in a debriefing session with the attorneys who argued the case.