Exploring Justice: Hands On at the Georgia Supreme Court

Feb 14, 2024 | All School, Blog, Upper School News

Dr. Schewe’s AP Government class took an expedition to the heart of justice as they attended oral arguments at the Georgia Supreme Court last week. This unique opportunity allowed students to witness legal proceedings firsthand and gain insight into the complexities of the judicial system. Students have been examining several landmark Supreme Court cases by listening to recordings of oral arguments on Oyez.org and then simulating the justices’ deliberations.

In May, the students will return to the GA Supreme Court to participate in mock oral arguments of a Fourth Amendment case; Schewe planned this first trip to the Supreme Court to provide students with an authentic model to help guide their future work.

The cases under review during the visit were TATUM v. THE STATE (S23G0955) and POWELL v. THE STATE (S24A0239) / SCOTT v. THE STATE (S24A0240), each presenting intricate legal issues and challenging questions for the court to consider.

In TATUM v. THE STATE, Mark Joseph Tatum appealed his convictions of peeping Tom and invasion of privacy, contesting the admissibility of cellphone evidence obtained through a search warrant. The central question posed to the Supreme Court of Georgia revolved around applying the “independent source” doctrine and its implications for the legality of the evidence in question.

On the other hand, POWELL v. THE STATE / SCOTT v. THE STATE involved former law enforcement officials challenging the denial of their motions to dismiss their criminal cases. John Powell and Brian Scott argued that the indictments against them were vague and failed to properly charge them with violating their oaths of office. The State countered, asserting that the trial court’s decisions were justified and that the indictments adequately outlined the charges against the defendants.

For the students, witnessing the legal arguments unfold in real-time provided invaluable insight into the legal process. They observed skilled attorneys presenting their cases, justices posing probing questions, and the deliberative nature of the court’s proceedings.

Jake Green, Class of 2025: “One thing that surprised me was how many questions the justices asked, and how they could just interrupt the lawyer at any time. My biggest takeaway was that the justices kept on asking if the question at hand was a constitutional problem or if it was a concept problem, meaning that what happened was unconstitutional or if the situation needed to be further understood before ruling if it was constitutional or not. One thing that I learned that I didn’t know about was how messy oral arguments can be. The lawyers are under a lot of pressure and constantly being asked questions, so it looked like it was hard for them to articulate their ideas.”

Reflecting on the experience, students gained a deeper appreciation for the complexities of the law and the vital role of the judicial system in upholding justice. The visit to the Georgia Supreme Court served as a catalyst for engaging in discussions and further exploration of legal principles in Dr. Schewe’s AP Government class.

Edee Moorman, Class of 2024: “I thought it was cool that the justices sit in their chairs according to seniority on the bench, and that they move to different chairs as justices retire or lose an election.”

Maddy Clark, Class of 2024: “The justices kept interrupting the lawyers to ask them questions that could clarify their argument. Even though the justices were grilling both sides, it was almost like the justices were helping each lawyer come up with a better argument. The lawyers were trying to find something to get the justices to see their perspectives.”

As the students returned to their classroom, they carried a newfound understanding of the law’s intricacies and a renewed curiosity about the principles of justice that shape our society. Dr. Schewe’s class’s visit to the Georgia Supreme Court not only will help them prepare for their return visit in May to participate in mock oral arguments, but it was also a transformative experience that will leave a lasting impression on their understanding of the law and its impact on our lives.