Spring in the Air

On campus, springtime brings finals week and the distracting tug of hanging out outside . We’re grading final papers from a bunch of Gen Zers, eight page essays on how their lives connect with the U.S. Constitution. I wish I could share them, as the stories are inspiring, whether it be about the immigrant origins of their families, or a decision to join Navy ROTC, or the costs of health care, or student loans, or AI, social media and free speech,  or the fear of gun violence in places they used to consider safe.  They are much more tuned in to current issues than some give them credit for.

As they relate the Constitution’s text and context to their lives, you realize these citizens born after 1996 are the forgotten audience, the next gen “posterity” to whom, sooner than we imagine, American democracy will pass.  Gen Zs will be the “first” in important ways: the first non-white majority gen in U. S. history; the first gen of tech native users born into social media “speech”; a potentially powerful group of new voters with consensus views on social issues that don’t mimic prior gens.

I say they are the forgotten audience because prior generations still on the political stage might well keep in mind who is watching. Confidence in American democracy, including but not limited to institutional confidence in the courts, is a generational thing. It doesn’t just happen automatically.

May for Scotus watchers is the wait-and-see time when still dormant decisions are on the verge of springing out in June.  With the current 6-3 majority, some watchers say that what’s to come is more predictable now in advance. We’ll see. Yes, we know that the Constitution’s principle is judicial independence, the idea that cases and controversies should be adjudicated based on law and facts rather than political or policy preference. This is the principle I teach my Gen Z students.

But you can’t just teach a principle and expect its unquestioned acceptance without student questions like:  whether the Nine are truly politically independent and whether ethical conflicts of interest exist.  My job isn’t to answer those questions for them, but to teach and practice the analytical thinking skills to make up their own minds.

The Scotus opinions emerging in June have an audience not just of litigants, lawyers, Court watchers and profs.

Gen Z is on campus in springtime. But they are watching too.

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