“Do you think there should be an age limit for judges?” “Do you think the constitution is outdated?” “If you view a law as amoral, why do you uphold it versus go against it?”
A group of 20 upper class University School of Nashville students had the opportunity to ask Tennessee Court of Appeals Judge W. Neal McBrayer questions during his recent visit to their contemporary civics class.
“Classes like these are so important for proper function of a democracy,” Judge McBrayer said. “People need to know how governmental systems work and this is where it starts, in the classroom. And, so, if ever there is a civics class that wants to hear from a judge, I am there. I am there because it’s that important.”
“How did your work in private practice prepare you to be a judge and how did you learn how to be a judge, because it’s not taught?”
“You really don’t learn how to be an appellate court judge,” Judge McBrayer said. “I still remember my first day as a judge. They give you this big office, you get in there and wonder ‘now what am I supposed to do?’”
“What are the most pressing issues or cases you deal with?”
“The cases that keep me up at night, the ones that I fret over the most, the ones I tend to work on the hardest are the ones that involve children and their parents,” Judge McBrayer said.
From learning the difference between an appointed and elected judge, to the downside of each process, Judge McBrayer was very impressed with the students’ questions.
“There were several good questions about my career path and how I became a judge,” he said. “I loved the question about how you prepare once you go on the bench. There were good questions about criminal justice reform, and the way Tennessee selects their intermediate appellate court judges and Supreme Court justices. All of the questions were very thoughtful.”
The students in the class are tasked with selecting a specific area of study, whether local, national or international. They then invite speakers to their classroom based on that focus.
“This takes a topic from being academic and distant to being personal and real,” said Vincent Durnan, University School of Nashville Director. “You could see students picturing themselves in his seat. You could see them framing issues that are going to be before that court and it increases the likelihood of their civic engagement pretty significantly.”