A priceless opportunity with Arizona’s highest court

Robert Schehr

By Robert Schehr
Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice

Many of life’s most precious experiences are unquantifiable: They’re priceless. Education is priceless. When approached with quality, education is transformative.

On Tuesday, the Arizona Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Arizona v. Salazar-Macado at NAU’s High Country Conference Center. More than 500 people filled the makeshift courtroom to hear two attorneys do what they do every day—argue the merits of their respective positions before a five-judge panel. But the event was more meaningful than that for many who attended, and as it turned out, for the justices themselves.

For 40 minutes, our students sat quietly while studying the process of critical inquiry unfolding before them. Once the hearing reached its conclusion, a 20-minute question-and-answer session commenced, with the court taking questions from the audience. Nearly all of the questions were from NAU students, who challenged the justices on matters of law and procedure.

Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch greets criminology professor Robert Schehr after the court’s oral arguments.
Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch greets criminology professor Robert Schehr after the court’s oral arguments.

So well articulated were their questions that the justices indicated afterward they were were superior to those they’ve received from law school students. Justice Ann Timmer even credited NAU faculty and their courses for the quality of the students’ questions. The students were well prepared, and they made their faculty very proud.

Having the court hear oral argument at NAU provided an unparalleled opportunity for the campus and the Flagstaff community to experience law in motion and engage with the most prestigious representatives of our state’s judiciary. Such experiences open students up to new possibilities for interpretation and awareness and possess a transformative potential.

For students in attendance at Tuesday’s hearing, especially those able to directly dialogue with the justices, they are not the same people they were prior to their encounter with the court. Theirs was an unquantifiable experience. It was priceless.