How many lawyers have the privilege of arguing a case before the US Supreme Court? Only perhaps a couple hundred per year, and one of them is Colorado’s Attorney General, Phil Weiser.
Mr. Weiser visited Mrs. Emma Simmons’s seventh-grade historians to discuss his part in the Colorado Department of State v. Baca case as an extension of their unit on the U.S. Constitution. The case centers around the issue of faithless electors in the United States Electoral College during the 2016 United States Presidential Election.
Fresh from a remote appearance before the Supreme Court, Mr. Weiser spoke briefly about his career trajectory and highlighted what a unique experience it was for him to argue a case in front of a Supreme Court Justice he clerked for in the past, Justice Ginsberg. Next, Mr. Weiser began to thoughtfully answer questions from his audience of seventh graders. Earlier this year, students participated in a class debate over the electoral college and studied the Baca case specifically so they were well informed and eager to learn more about Weiser’s experience.
Avery Anderson kicked off the Q&A with a question about how Mr. Weiser prepared to present his argument over the phone for the remote appearance. “You practice how you play,” he answered. With his colleagues in the Attorney General’s office, he practiced his delivery over the phone, then met via video conferencing to develop, refine and improve his presentation.
Maggie Frampton was interested in hearing Mr. Weiser’s thoughts about alternatives to the electoral college. He mentioned the proposed national popular vote interstate compact but expressed concerns about whether this system would be an improvement. Mr. Weiser also noted that no other country in the world uses the electoral college to elect a leader.
Knowing the case’s history, Henry Montgomery asked why Mr. Weiser decided to petition the US Supreme Court after losing his case in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. “In theory, we could have gone home and said we’re done,” he explained. “In practice, we were really concerned that the ruling was going to wreak havoc in the upcoming presidential election.”
As for the odds of getting the case accepted by the Court, he said, “In our favor was the fact that the Washington Supreme Court’s ruling was opposite of Colorado’s on the same type of facts. Only the US Supreme Court could clarify this issue and resolve the conflict.”
Mrs. Simmons reflected, “In this challenging time of remote learning, I am excited that this Zoom call could be such a unique and authentic learning experience for my students. As the days and weeks go by, I hope they remember this meeting with Mr. Weiser and their own curiosity about the electoral college. The results of this case will likely affect the 2020 election, and the election after that, by which time some of our seventh graders may be eligible to vote!”
In history class, a keen study of the U.S. Constitution and the importance of civic engagement has been a focus all year. “The fact that this case weaves together issues of federalism, suffrage, and the workings of the court made for a perfect culminating event for the students,” Mrs. Simmons said.
Special thanks to Avery’s mother, Christy Anderson, whose professional connection to Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser facilitated this opportunity for Graland.