Legal Docket: A school choice case preview

NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Monday morning and a brand new work week for The World and Everything in ItToday is the first day of July, 2019. Good morning to you, I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. 

Woo-hoo! Thank you, thank you, we reached our giving goal this weekend! And by the time we add everything up, and that’ll take several days, because of checks in the mail, we’ll not only meet, but we will top that $750,000 goal we’d set out!

EICHER: And here’s something else that’ll make you smile. Remember, in December, we’d set a goal of 10,000 gifts and we didn’t quite reach that? Well, interestingly, after this Spring Giving Drive, we can say that in our fiscal year just completed, we have for the first time in our organization’s history more than 10,000 individual donors.

That’s so great, because that goes against a trend in the nonprofit world, with the new tax law and fewer people itemizing. Gifts overall are declining. But for WORLD, they’re increasing!

REICHARD: What’s so great about that is engagement. Really getting the mission here: biblical worldview journalism, in a way nobody else does it. And that’s what you want to support. We know each dollar represents a piece of your life that you are investing in ours.

EICHER: So thank you for giving and for caring about what we do. This really helps us get going on the new fiscal year in a strong position. We’re going to get to work on reporting more stories with more reporters. 

We’re going to work to improve this program and work on producing some other podcasts. Details to come on that. 

Really looking forward to that and over the next several months, we’ll lay out plans and let you know all about them. 

The future’s looking bright, and it’s because of you! Thanks so much.

REICHARD: Well, the Supreme Court term for 2018-2019 ended last week. But the justices are now busy deciding what cases to accept for the next term that starts in October.

Three matters of special note came in on Friday. The court announced that it will take up the dispute over an executive order known by the acronym DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It allows people brought into the United States illegally by their parents and who grew up in the United States to apply for protection from deportation as well as seek permission to work in this country. 

It is not law. President Obama created DACA by executive order in 2012. The Trump administration decided to rescind the executive order with an executive order of its own. But federal judges issued orders that kept DACA in place. The Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to intervene. Now the court will.

EICHER: Also added to the docket for next term is a high-profile case on school choice. 

The highest court in Montana ruled that the state must exclude religious schools from scholarship programs funded by tax credits. These are programs available to anyone else in any other circumstance.

When this case began to make its way through lower courts, we talked with a parent affected by the decision. This is Kendra Espinoza and she spoke with us two summers ago.

ESPINOZA: That was kind of a hard blow and it felt like it was discrimination. And it felt wrong. There’s no reason that I should be excluded just because I wanted to send my kids to a certain school. I didn’t feel that that was fair or right. And scary to think that I would have to pull the children and not have opportunity to send them there.

REICHARD: Here’s a case that will not be at the Supreme Court next year: and it has to do with the fate of Alabama’s law protecting unborn children.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit struck down the state’s ban on using the procedure used to abort after 15 weeks gestation. It’s called dilation and evacuation or dismemberment procedure.

U.S. Supreme Court justices declined to take up an appeal aimed at restoring those protections.

Justice Clarence Thomas agreed that the Supreme Court ought not review this particular case, but he filed a separate opinion in which he said the case does serve “as a stark reminder that our abortion jurisprudence has spiraled out of control.”

EICHER: Well, over the summer, we like to feature a commencement speech or two from any Supreme Court justice who delivers one. But this year, only one justice did so, and it was Justice Sonia Sotomayor. 

She spoke to graduates of Manhattan College back in May. That’s a private, Roman Catholic liberal arts college in New York City. It was established in 1853 by the Brothers of the Christian Schools and now has about 4,000 students. 

Justice Sotomayor described her upbringing and advised the young people of what it means to make a difference in the world. 

So here, edited for length, is Justice Sotomayor.

SOTOMAYOR: It is an honor for me to share this occasion with all of you. It is also particularly lovely for me to be here because it lets me return to my home borough, the Bronx. A place that makes my heart smile whenever I come back to it. You can send a girl to Washington, D.C., but you can’t take the Bronx out of her.

As some of you already know, I grew up poor in a poor area of the Bronx in a housing project in the southeastern part of that borough…My dad was a factory worker who had graduated only from sixth grade and my mom at the time was a practical nurse who had gotten her high school diploma as part of her veteran’s educational grant after she left the Army ….

My parents had not had many education opportunities themselves growing up. But they and especially my mom made education the center value of the lives of my brother and me, who my mom raised alone after my dad died when I was 9. She repeatedly…told us that education would open the door of opportunity. Eventually, when my brother and I were in high school, my mother was able to achieve her own lifelong dream of going to college and becoming a registered nurse. 

For all the parents and even grandparents out there, it is never too late to go back to school. It was impossible for my brother and me not to study hard when we watched how hard mom studied night after night at our kitchen table.

While I hope you will congratulate yourselves on this achievement, I hope that you also take time to thank those who helped you along the way. Working together with others you may have already discovered is one of the great secrets to achieving anything in the world.

I first realized that during my own time in college, which as you heard felt a little bit like arriving in an alien country. My very first semester I was assigned to write a midterm paper in the introductory American history course I was taking. When I got my paper back, I saw a big red C+ marked at the top. That was the lowest grade I had received on anything since the fourth grade. I was devastated. 

I went to my history professor and asked why I had received such a low grade. Her feedback that both my structure and my grammar needed work could have been disabling. Instead, however, I learned from it, and I asked for help. 

Before the next essay, in addition to spending countless hours pouring over basic grammar books, I sought out the assistance of my professors. By the time I graduated…summa cum laude, I had come to see that dreams come true only if you work hard to make them come true. And they come true not just because of your own efforts, but also because other people in your life help you succeed.

A college degree remains very important. Economic data shows that in the long run, a college degree means more long-term earnings.

Education has a more important value than money.  I am often asked if I ever imagined as a child being on the Supreme Court, the highest court in the United States. ‘No,’ I say, ‘When I was a child, my family was poor. No lawyer or judges lived in my neighborhood. I knew nothing about the Supreme Court or its work in interpreting the Constitution and the laws of the United States affects people’s lives.  … 

You cannot dream of becoming something you do not know about. You have to learn to dream big. Education exposes you to what the world has to offer, to the possibilities open to you… 

To paraphrase a prayer of the late theologian Ryan Hall Newberg, you learn ways of managing the things that cannot be changed, changing the things that should be changed, and wisdom to tell the difference. Those skills are the real value of education and what has made it worthwhile for you. 

My education taught me about the Supreme Court, a workplace beyond my wildest dreams as a child, but the value of an education diminishes unless you put it to use, particularly good use. Good use includes earning a living and supporting your families. 

I suspect your parents are happy to hear that I’m telling you that. But it also does mean something more significant…it means contributing to the betterment of the community and world you live in. That betterment does not have to be in a big or public way like becoming a Supreme Court justice. 

My grandmother bettered her community by ensuring that no one around her ever went hungry. My mom as a practical nurse would give shots to neighbors who needed them or help others with blood pressure reading or changing bandages. 

In fact, I remember calling my mother endlessly the morning that the Senate was voting on my nomination to the 2nd Circuit—the court I was on before the Supreme Court—only to be unable to reach her because she had instead taken her neighbor to a doctor’s appointment. 

My family taught me to measure happiness not by what I do as work but from what I give to others. It is the most important lesson and the deepest source of meaning I have found in life. 

There are many ways in which you can use your education to foster that kind of meaning in your own lives, joining your school boards, becoming members of the board of trustees, for example, or assisting with food or clothing collections or tutoring in local schools. 

In the end, however you decide to be of service, it is the willingness to put your newly gained knowledge to use that will both help you grow as an individual and also help us grow as a community and as a nation. 

My decision to become a lawyer was itself an exercise in service. Working in the law is a career that I have always understood to be fundamentally about helping people. 

That is the kind of work I have always woken up to in the morning. And I am excited to be able to do it. But helping people is not a feature unique to lawyering. It should be and is a part of every job. If you do your job bearing that goal in mind you will be happy and you will help people. 

So as you go forth from this institution ask yourself each day who have I helped today, how have I made a difference today. Who did you smile at? Who did you call to find out if they’re feeling ok? What have you done? 

If you can answer those questions each day, then you are living life at its most meaningful way. My hope for all of you here today is that you find a life filled with meaning and that you create that meaning by serving your communities and the people in your life.

Please join me now not in applauding me but in applauding yourself and all of the people who have helped make your dreams of today come true.

That is Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor. She delivered her remarks to graduates from Manhattan College in May. 

And that’s this week’s Legal Docket.

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) In this June 17, 2019 photo, The Supreme Court is shown in Washington. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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