Weather Forecast


ACGC students jostle for power with state Supreme Court Justice

ACGC 9th grader Sam Ammermann, right, plays the part of King Samuel from the Kingdom of Ammermann Friday afternoon as Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Paul H. Anderson demonstrates the danger of absolute power and the power of democracy and freedom. Anderson was invited to speak to the students by ACGC civic teacher Theresa Nelson. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

GROVE CITY -- Imagine a game of basketball where a ball is power and three players -- the legislative, executive and judicial branches -- are jostling under the net for the rebound.

That role-play drama was acted out Friday afternoon with ACGC ninth graders Logan Jacobs and Erica Melbie bumping shoulders and elbows with Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson.

"Come on, give me an elbow to the throat," said Anderson to Jacobs who looked absolutely horrified at the idea of roughing-up an esteemed member of the state's high court.

But after Anderson dug his shoulder into the student and skidded him across the stage at the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City school auditorium, Jacobs -- playing the legislative branch -- defended himself and gently pushed back on one side as Melbie -- from the executive branch -- shoved the Justice from the other.

"Don't be cynical," cautioned Anderson to the 65 students in the audience, explaining that it's typical for the different branches of government to collide on occasion. "Don't be dismayed if we're bumping up against each other."

But when the branches crash and burn it's the judicial branch's job to "call the fouls," said Anderson during a 1½-hour presentation to the school's civic classes.

Anderson, who's served on the court since 1994, spends about one day a week talking to students in classrooms around the state.

He relishes talking about topics he's "passionate" about like freedom, democracy, the Constitution and the "court's role in protecting liberty."

By using humor and a putting students in the role of king, judge, attorney and victim, Anderson is able to guide his audience through the history of democracy in a way that makes sense and is applicable, even to 15-year-olds.

The interactive lesson started by Anderson naming student Sam Ammermann as King Samuel from the Kingdom of Ammermann who had rule over the entire school. When a student in the audience laughed, the king sent the minion to the tower to await a death sentence for having the audacity to mock the ruler.

What was a fun lesson for the students is reality in some countries. During a recent trip to China, Anderson said he saw people afraid to speak up and challenge leaders.

Freedom is what makes America and democracy work, said Anderson, leading students through a quick history of the revolution and the purpose of the constitution. "Our advantage is our freedom," he said.

Last week Anderson was in Manila, Philippines, to discuss elections in a country that, for the first time, will be using optical scan machines to count votes. He was invited to attend because the state's successful recount of the Senate ballots between Al Franken and Norm Coleman has won international praise. It's known that "they know how to do things right in Minnesota," he said.

Considering the "privilege" of serving on the Supreme Court, Anderson said speaking in schools is one way he can give something back to the state.

He spoke with gratitude about the generations before him that found value in investing in a good education system that allowed him to attend college debt free.

He issued a criticism of the state's current education system that leaves students with thousands of dollars in school loans.

"My generation has let you down," said Anderson. "I apologize for that. We let you down."

Anderson encouraged the students not to be angry and take it out on the next generation. "Make it better," he said.

Anderson was born and raised on a Minnesota dairy farm. His wife grew up in Kandiyohi County and the couple has a summer home on Big Kandiyohi Lake. He was invited to ACGC by Theresa Nelson, a civics teacher, who met Anderson last summer at a Norwegian stevne that explores Scandinavian genealogy, history and culture.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750