On Nov. 13, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Souter visited Class V civics classes. Souter served on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1900 to 2009. Prior, he was the attorney general of New Hampshire then judge of the New Hampshire Superior Court.
Souter discussed the importance of a civic education and its effects on the future of the U.S. government. He applauded Nobles students for studying civics and shared that up until a few years ago, civic education has been deemphasized in schools for 40 or so years. The correlation between the level of government knowledge and voting percentage is staggering. Voting percentages for the 18- to 30-year-old demographic is incredibly low.
“We can take this as a proven fact—polls, surveys have collected the data on it—that the more people know about the government, the more people know about where the responsibilities lies in varied branches of the government. The more they understand the connection between the vote that they cast and the government that results, the greater part those people are willing to play in actually being part of the government—voting faithfully, considering public office, considering public service, considering the responsibility right in your hometown to make conditions better,” he says. “The more that is known about government, the more responsible a person will feel for making it work.”
Souter talked about the state of the U.S. government and emphasized, “You guys and others in your age group all over the United States can make the difference in the way the future of the United States goes.”
He proposed the following questions: “Which way are we going to go in the United States? Are we going to pull ourselves out of the mess that we are in today, politically, or are we going to go the way of the Roman Republic? Are we going to allow things to get worse and worse?”
Souter says that he’s not a pessimist and does not believe the U.S. government will fail like the collapse of Rome. “History does not repeat itself exactly, but it can give some very wise and valuable warnings,” he says. “And when you look back at the Roman experience, history is giving us a warning. The warning is it may turn out bad if somebody doesn’t start doing something about it, and the people who have got to start doing something about it are the voters of the United States.”
Souter’s career began after graduating from law school. He aspired to be the kind of lawyer who “gave back to the community.” When one student asked, “Did you always want to become a justice on the Supreme Court?” Souter said, no, but shared that when he was appointed, many friends and family members said, “I always knew you were going to be on the Supreme Court.”
He advised students not to spend too much time planning their lives. “Make the best plans in the world that you can, which is what I did,” he says. “And then be ready to change them because you’re going to have experiences that open up opportunities that you didn’t think about.”