Question: Of what importance is the craft of writing to a Minnesota Supreme Court Judge?
Answer: Apparently, it’s the most important thing.
“I’m part of the American legal system, which comes out of the English Commonlaw system. Which means that if I write an opinion, it has the force of law,” said Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Paul H. Anderson at a visit to a developmental writing class at Itasca Community College (ICC) on Friday, March 1.
Anderson, a charismatic speaker who is just as fond of quoting literature as he is of telling an off-color story to grab one’s attention, demonstrated the gravity of the above statement by referring to opinions he had written regarding unwarranted search and seizures, using ice fishing as the setting for his anecdote.
“Do you have a certain expectation of privacy in the fish house?” He asked the students, asking also if they think it’s alright for a conservation officer to just walk in whenever they choose.
Despite the fact that the fish house is on a public lake, according to the Supreme Court, officers need to have “reasonable articulate suspicion that you’re doing something wrong” before they can enter the fish house. Now, in writing such an opinion, Anderson stressed that it’s not just the bottom line of such decisions which is important, but the manner in which the reason for the decision is explained. If his reasoning is faulty, or if it’s explained in a way that is not understood, he said, “it will die of its own poison.”
Anderson visited Grand Rapids after receiving an invitation from his former clerk, Sarah McBroom, who is now a staff attorney at Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota. A frequent classroom speaker, he took the opportunity of being in town to speak to students at both ICC and Grand Rapids High School on Friday morning.
But whereas he could have, and might have been expected to, speak at a constitutional law class, Anderson feels passionate about writing classes. In particular, lower-level writing classes, because of an experience with his own daughter, who was often told by her teachers that she wouldn’t amount to much academically, until she was told by a writing instructor while attending college in Moorhead that she really had potential. The fact that his daughter is now a teacher with two Masters degrees has lead Anderson to believe that classes like the one at ICC are where the greatest differences are made.
Quoting filmmaker and writer Woody Allen, Anderson told the students that “The world is run by those who show up,” signifying that the seizure of opportunity is a large component of success in life. And in the brief time he had with the class, he encouraged the students to do just that.
“They need to be told they’re worthwhile. They have value,” said Anderson.
Justice Anderson will be retiring at the end of May of this year, when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70. He was first appointed to the Supreme Court in 1994 by Governor Arne Carlson.