On the afternoon before his lecture at the Schnitz, Jeffrey Toobin spent an hour answering questions from a very well-prepared group of students at Grant High School–specifically, the Constitution Team taught by Dave Lickey. It sounded a little like this:
Student: What is the importance of respecting legal precedent?
Toobin: That is a great question…One reason to honor precedent is because it gives society and participants a way to know the rules of the road…That is a great question to ask because legal precedent is a fundamental concept and it’s good to challenge those. Not to reject it, necessarily, but to examine why we do it.
Students’ questions covered an impressive range of topics, from constitutional “originalists” to conflicts of interest within the Supreme Court to the Presidential debates to Justice John Roberts’ decisions to bipartisanship in Congress vs. the judicial system. As you can see, the students came to the table having studied Toobin’s work and constitutional law. Toobin was clearly pleased and in his element answering these types of questions.
Toobin said he doesn’t believe that partisanship is necessarily bad, saying, “These are important issues people are arguing about. Politics is messy, and it always has been.” He and the students had a long conversation about the trickiness of deciphering the intent of the framers of the Constitution, and Toobin got a good laugh from students when he asked the rhetorical question, “What did James Madison think about video games?” He encouraged students to continue asking fundamental questions, saying that they are at the perfect age to be exploring the why and how of constitutional law. Judging by the applause, they agreed wholeheartedly.