Courthouses are often described as places where justice is served and when everything works as it should, they are. But during my recent visit to the United States Supreme Court, where I had the privilege of participating in an hour-long Q & A with Justice Sonia Sotomayor (fellow Bronx native!), I developed a new view of the Court. I was so moved by her words that I left thinking of the Court as a place where Justice (Sotomayor and the optimist in me would like to say her 8 colleagues on the bench) serves us, the public. Justice Sotomayor spoke eloquently about her commitment to service and the obligation she feels to make the right decision on each case they consider knowing that: A) there is no higher court to correct their decision if they get it wrong and B) every case that comes before them has lasting implications not just for the two named parties, but for many, if not all, Americans (one of the criterion used in winnowing the 8,000-9,000 cases that are sent to them each year down to just 80 or 90).
Justice Sotomayor also said she has made it her mission to make sure more Americans, from all backgrounds, know about and understand the Court. As exciting as it was to hear her describe this as her primary “extracurricular activity”, I found myself wondering how different things might be if community outreach were part of the “core curriculum” for all of the Justices, or better yet, all public servants. There’s lots of talk about the presidential candidates being out of touch with the American public, but shouldn’t knowing about your community be a prerequisite for every public servant? Fresh from watching the Oscars and reading this disturbing article about the dearth of black students at NYC’s top high school, it’s taking everything in me not to rant about the importance of diversity, but I’ll restrain myself…for now.
My visit to the Supreme Court offered a lessons in history, civics, architecture and a motivational speech all rolled into one. It reminded me of the brilliance, even with all its imperfections, of our systems (the 3 branches of government, innocent until proven guilty, all of it) and power of field trips. If this trip had such a profound impact on me, what could it have done for a kid who thinks school is irrelevant? I realize every school can’t take a trip to DC, but every city or town has places that can help bring learning to life. Here’s one that wasn’t around when Justice Sotomayor and I were kids, but will hopefully serve many future generations of Bronx kids.