May 13, 2010 in Washington Voices

Fairhurst holds court before eighth-graders

Supreme Court justice tells students how she got into law
By The Spokesman-Review
Lisa Leinberger photo

Washington State Supreme Court Justice Mary Fairhurst spoke to eighth-grade students at Bowdish Middle School last week.
(Full-size photo)

Eighth-grade students at Bowdish Middle School received a lesson in how the court system works last week when Washington State Supreme Court Justice Mary Fairhurst visited their school.

Fairhurst explained how she decided to go into the law as a career – she went to college at Gonzaga University and everyone told her she should be a lawyer. She said she was good at talking and good at arguing, standing up for things she didn’t think were right.

But she didn’t come from a family of lawyers and wasn’t quite sure if that was for her.

She studied a little creative writing, but that didn’t work out. She thought maybe she might like psychology. She then took a political science class and learned how governments work.

“Governments make a difference in people’s lives,” she told the group of eighth-graders.

She finally decided to go to law school and made a deal with herself that she could quit at any time if she didn’t like it.

“I loved it,” she said.

She then told the group about how the court system in Washington state works and how the highest court in the state gets to hear each case.

She said cases come to the state Supreme Court after they have been tried in appellate courts throughout the state. She said the court gets to choose each case it will hear and explained how a case is presented to the court.

She said decisions the Supreme Court makes affect laws in the state.

When she was finished, she gave the students a chance to ask her questions.

One student asked how the court decides which cases to hear. She told them they have a set of guidelines – some cases they have to hear, some cases may interpret the state constitution in different ways. She explained that the court can’t overrule the constitution, but it can interpret it in different ways.

Elizabeth Smith, a student at the school, said she was interested in Fairhurst’s discussion.

“I’m really interested to hear what people do for the law in Olympia,” she said.

Fairhurst finished her discussion with advice to the students about their career goals.

“Ask yourself, ‘What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail,’ ” she said. “I want you to do it.”

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