The Supremes are coming to Vermillion

The Supremes are coming to Vermillion by David Lias The University of South Dakota School of Law will host the S.D. Supreme Court's March term later this month.

The court will hear arguments in the courtroom of the law school March 22, 23, and 24.

Three oral arguments are scheduled each morning in the law school courtroom except for Wednesday which has two oral arguments scheduled.

A total of eight oral arguments are scheduled over the three days. During the remainder of each day, the court is scheduled to consider non-oral arguments, such as written appellate briefs.

"The goal behind this � this is not new, the Supreme Court does travel quite a bit and to other places � but I'm sure it's to allow the public the opportunity to see what happens in an appeal," said Tom Sorensen, associate dean at the USD Law School. "Otherwise, court is in Pierre, and that's centrally-located but it's a long distance from everywhere."

It's a practice sharply in contrast with the highly private operations of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The S.D. Supreme Court is not only based a great distance from South Dakota's major population centers, said Chief Justice David Gilbertson. It's chambers in Pierre can, at best, seat only about 20 people comfortably.

"We work for the people at resolving disputes," Gilbertson said, "and the more they know how we do it, I think the better off the system functions.

"And we fully understand that it is not very easy for a lot of people who work or are students to drive to Pierre during the work week or during the school week to listen to our oral arguments."

Approximately 20 years ago, the state Supreme Court began holding oral arguments in the USD Law School every March.

"It allows the law school to view the real thing rather than just the theory, and it's certainly open to the public, too," Gilbertson said. "In fact, we invite every high school within 100 miles of Vermillion, and that includes some high schools outside of South Dakota."

Citizens can see the cases in action, the chief justice said.

"We attempt to choose cases that are interesting and instructive to the public," he said.

"The professors from the law school tell us it's a great teaching tool."

Audio from the court arguments is archived on the Internet, and available for public review.

"All of these factor into the goal we have to simply inform the public of how we resolve disputes," Gilbertson said.

The March term will also serve as a homecoming of sorts for the court. Each justice is a graduate of the USD School of Law.

Court members and the year each graduated are: Gilbertson ('75), and Justices Richard Sabers ('66), John Konenkamp ('74), Steven Zinter ('75), and Judith Meierhenry ('77).

Gilbertson said returning to USD is just an added bonus to the Supreme Court's experience of going on the road to hear arguments.

"Especially since there are two professors left there when I was still a law student," he said.

When Gilbertson was a law student in Vermillion, there wasn't the technology or the facilities that exist today that help make the state Supreme Court more accessible to citizens.

"We were in the old law

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school at that time, and there simply wasn't room in that building to do what we're doing now," he said. "The new law school, which was completed around 1990, contains a courtroom that was specifically designed with a seating capacity to be a classroom.

"Of course, when I was in law school, there was no Internet, so a lot of the things we do now to take the court to the public simply didn't exist when I was in law school," Gilbertson said.

Educators who are interested in bringing a class to the sessions should contact Teresa Carlisle by phone: (605) 677-5362 or by e-mail:

The court will hear arguments ranging from cases involving the death penalty to one where justices will be asked to consider whether the governor has sole discretion in sealing pardons.

To read more about all of the cases to be heard by the court, log on to

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