SAN FRANCISCO—U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch got a preview of arguments he’s likely to hear next term at the high court at a forum on civics education at the Ninth Circuit’s judicial conference Monday afternoon.
Gorsuch participated in a ceremony recognizing high school students who won the Ninth Circuit Civics Contest, which this year focused on legal lessons learned from the Japanese internment during World War II. Both the winning essayist and video makers, whose winning entries were presented in full, made parallels between the executive order leading to Japanese internment with President Donald Trump’s travel ban executive order, which will be under review by Gorsuch and his colleagues at the U.S. Supreme Court next term.
Gorsuch congratulated both students with handshakes before making some brief public comments.
“Moments like these are really heartening for me,” said Gorsuch of the student presentations. “It’s like a shot in the arm—a vitamin B shot,” he said.
Monday’s award ceremony followed panel discussion, billed as “Civics Education in the Ninth Circuit and Beyond: A Forum for Sharing New Ideas and Best Practices,” featuring Gorsuch and group of lower court judges including Chief Judge Robert Katzmann of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Sidney Thomas. The judges discussed efforts, like the contest, that the federal courts and their partners are making to educate the public about the workings of the government.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg School for Communication, kicked off the panel by ticking off a number of basic civics questions that the majority of Americans cannot answer correctly, including naming the three branches of the federal government.
Gorsuch opened his remarks by musing briefly about a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin around the time of the drafting of the U.S. Constitution.
When taking a break from the proceedings, Franklin was reportedly asked what sort of government the Constitutional Congress was cooking up.
“A republic if we can keep it,” the popular quote goes.
Gorsuch told a crowd gathered at the judicial conference of the Ninth Circuit that regardless of its historical accuracy the quote holds true.
Self-government, he said, “is not self-executing or self-perpetuating.”
Gorsuch later said there is “much to do” in to educate the public. He pointed to the online civics course that former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor helped spearhead called iCivics. Gorsuch said that the “Supreme Decision” game available via iCivics has become popular among his clerks.
The online game, which puts players in the shoes of clerks helping a justice cast the deciding vote in a 4-4 split, forces players to listen to both sides of a particular argument before making their decision.
Gorsuch said that the game does a good job of teaching players to “listen” to other points of view rather than just “tolerating one another.”
Gorsuch’s appearance, among his first off-the-bench public speaking engagements since joining the court in April, came as a last-minute substitution for his onetime boss and mentor Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy had planned to speak at the conference, but opted to stay with his wife as she recovers from a fractured hip.
Gorsuch previously spoke alongside Justice Stephen Breyer at an event at the Harvard Marshall Forum in June commemorating the 70th anniversary of George Marshall’s plan to rebuild Europe after World War II.
Gorsuch was also set to speak to new citizens following a naturalization ceremony later during Monday’s program.