Education

Justice Gorsuch Tells Students: The Constitution Is in Your Hands to Protect

By Mark Walsh — September 17, 2020 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch on Thursday implored a nationwide audience of K-12 students on Zoom to study the U.S. Constitution and prepare to become the next generation that will try to protect it and achieve its ideals.

“First, learn about it,” Gorsuch said in a Constitution Day session sponsored by the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. “This is going to be in your hands to preserve, protect, and defend.”

Gorsuch, who has written and spoken before about the importance of civics education, said he worries that “60 percent of people fail our citizenship test” and “only about a third can identify three branches of government.”

And, as he has noted before, “10 percent believe that Judith Sheindlin serves on the Supreme Court.” That person is better known as Judge Judy, the popular TV judge, but she is not one of his colleagues on the nation’s highest court, Gorsuch reminded the young people.

Gorsuch was one of three justices to speak or be honored in online sessions on Thursday to mark Constitution Day. Justice Stephen G. Breyer spoke on Zoom to law students at George Washington University in Washington, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was to be honored in the evening with the Liberty Medal in a virtual ceremony by the National Constitution Center, though Ginsburg was not going to participate in the event.

Breyer is perhaps the court’s most accomplished remote speaker after addressing a New York City high school via Zoom early in the coronavirus pandemic and doing other sessions. Speaking Thursday from what appeared to be a bedroom in his home in Cambridge, Mass., Breyer touched on school desegregation cases and how the court is handling working virtually during the pandemic.

There is “a plus and a minus” to hearing arguments over the telephone, as the high court did in May and will do again for its first set of arguments of the new term that begins Oct. 5, Breyer said. The telephone arguments force the justices to listen more closely, and “I thought that was a plus,” he said. But the negatives include that there is less of a dialogue than when the justices hear arguments in the courtroom, he said.

“I like it, but I’m not sure I’d like to do it all the time,” Breyer said about the remote arguments.

Asked by one student which opinion of his over his many years as a judge and justice he would choose to be judged on, Breyer cited his dissent in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District, the 2007 case which sharply limited the ways school districts could voluntarily consider race in drawing student attendance zones.

“My view was that affirmative action, to a degree, is permitted by the 14th Amendment” to bring underrepresented minorities “into society,” Breyer said in the Zoom session.

Meanwhile, Gorsuch spoke to some 1,300 registered participants in the K-12 town hall, though likely more were turning in because some entire classes were counted as one registrant, the National Constitution Center said.

Speaking from his chambers at the Supreme Court and sporting a neatly trimmed pandemic beard that he didn’t have when last visible to the public in the spring, Gorsuch echoed Breyer in noting some frustration in conducting business over the telephone.

“It’s been hard not to see my colleagues” for the justices’ weekly conferences, Gorsuch said. “I don’t have anything to complain about, but I do miss that in-person dialogue.”

Responding to student questions read by Jeffrey Rosen, the president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, Gorsuch noted that he and his family finally saw the popular musical “Hamilton” on Disney Plus over the summer.

“It is fantastic, but my only complaint is that James Madison doesn’t come across very well,” Gorsuch said. The justice has portraits of Madison and the first Justice John Marshall Harlan in his chambers, he said. Harlan was the sole dissenter to the court’s 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson that upheld “separate but equal” facilities for Black Americans.

Harlan “stood up for enforcing the original meaning of the 14th Amendment,” Gorsuch said, a view that eventually prevailed in the court’s 1954 school desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

Asked about his favorite classes in school, Gorsuch said that he liked science “because we got to blow things up.” He also enjoyed playing dodgeball in physical education class, he said, but his true favorite subjects were history and literature.

Gorsuch noted that Justice Byron R. White, for whom he clerked the term after White had retired from the court in 1993, instilled a sense of humility by walking around the court’s hallways, filled with portraits of past justices, and noting that most were now forgotten to history.

Asked by Rosen how he would tell students to maintain such humility, Gorsuch said, “I just say to those young folks, be persistent, work hard, be fair.”

“You know all these virtues,” the justice said. “Your grandmother taught them to you. Your mother taught them. Your teachers, too. I’m just so grateful for all the teachers of America who are watching right now and helping the children through this difficult time.”

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP