Spencer had the honor of hosting the Iowa Supreme Court Justices during one of their community visits. The goal of their travels throughout Iowa is for the public to have the opportunity to hear an actual case, as well as to interact with as many people from different communities as possible. This is a new program for the Iowa Supreme Court, and it is designed to give citizens a chance to see what goes on in the Judicial Branch in Des Moines.
The public was invited to attend several events planned while all seven justices were in Spencer. Those events were highlighted by an actual oral argument that was held at the Old Middle School Auditorium. In addition, over 50 Spencer High School Mock Trial, Student Council, Junior Leadership Spencer and other interested students had the opportunity to meet with two different justices. While with the students, the justices talked about their responsibilities on the supreme court, the selection process, the Iowa Judicial System and answered questions. When asked about the experience, SHS senior, Steven Crew said, “Having the justices in Spencer provided a unique opportunity to see and interact with highly educated individuals. Being able to see the most important people within the state judicial system, was fantastic. It’s not every day that we have the opportunity to pick their minds. On top of the visit to school, the live case was quite the experience to go to, along with the meet and greet afterwards.”
While with the students at Spencer High School, one of the justices, Justice Brent Appel, explained that to be an Iowa Supreme Court Justice, one must apply, get nominated and then be appointed by the governor. He applied three times, and it wasn’t until his third attempt that he was successful. Justice Appel went on to say that there is a retention election every 8 years and mandatory retirement at the age of 72. The Iowa process is far different than the federal process, but Justice Appel shared that he likes to remain neutral and base judgements on fact and law rather than on the highly partisan process like that of the United States Supreme Court.
Following Justice Appel’s discussion, many students remained on hand to ask poignant questions. For Harry Whittenburg-Nelsen, a senior at SHS who plans to study Political Science and Philosophy with a concentration in Electoral Ethics, the experience allowed for rare insight into the judicial branch. Whittenburg-Nelsen said, “I asked several of the justices about the procedure of the appellate court system, as well as some personal questions about their experiences in law. I tried to steer away from any opinionated questions because of their limitations.”
Advice given by the justices to Crew while discussing the idea of law school echoed a similar theme. Crew said, “Many of the justices gave the same advice to do what you want and excel in it. The justices also stressed how important it is to diversify what you do in college and after graduation if you even want to consider becoming a judge.”