High-schoolers get a chance to see the inner workings, top decision makers in Washingtonwphungerford
Based on everything the Chief Justice of the United States told our household teenager, Connor was not surprised by last week’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act.
John G. Roberts Jr. was the swing vote in a 5-4 tally that officially said, “Yup. Looks more or less OK to us.” That was somewhat startling to most of the allegedly knowledgeable prognosticators, but chances are they’ve never sat in a big room in the Supreme Court Building hung with portraits of deceased justices, peppering Roberts with questions.
Connor, who just finished his junior year, had that opportunity in March because of an amazing program that every politically inclined high-schooler in Michigan should know about.
In theory, that’s why I’m mentioning the United States Senate Youth Program now. You can also make a case that I’ve been waiting 31/2 months to brag about my kid, and I’m out of patience. But the fact is, the program USSYP took him places he could barely have imagined, and chances are you know a junior or senior who would appreciate the opportunity as much as he did.
A rare opportunity
Connor’s hope is to someday become Emperor of the Planet. Since that job is unlikely to come open, he’ll settle for U.S. representative. It’s an ambition common to many of the 104 USSYP delegates — two from each state and Washington, D.C., plus two from military bases overseas.
As delegates, they shared an all-expense-paid, behind-the-curtains trip to D.C. that included in-depth sessions with the likes of Roberts, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Susan Collins, the moderate Republican senator from Maine who isn’t Olympia Snowe.
Also — and perhaps I should have mentioned this first — they each won a $5,000 scholarship. And having been instructed to “All rise for Chief Justice John Roberts,” they all laughed when he strolled in smiling and said, “All sit.”
“He wanted us to be comfortable in asking him things,” Connor says. He was funny, friendly, and passionate about the responsibility and legacy of his job.
One of the delegates asked Roberts about the role faith plays in his decisions. “Absolutely none,” he said: He performs his duties with deliberate indifference to his religious and personal beliefs.
“It almost seemed like the U.S. Constitution was his religion when he walked into the office in the morning,” Connor says. So he sided with the constitutionality of a health care package he likely doesn’t approve of.
How to apply That insight into a major historical moment comes courtesy of the Hearst Foundation, sponsor of USSYP for all of its 50 years. For more information, visit www.ussenateyouth.org.
Connor and fellow Michigan delegate Samantha Smith of Bay City were selected on the basis of an application, public affairs test and essay. Each state sets its own entry deadline, and ours remains uncertain for next school year.
The best step at this point is to e-mail Mary Harmer of the Michigan Department of Education at Harmerm@michigan.gov.
The winners will come back from their trip with memories and a bond. The class of 2012 remains connected, holding spirited but not mean-spirited online debates while finding compromises the adults in the Capitol can’t or won’t.
It could be we voters have sent the wrong bunch to Washington — but give the kids a few decades. They’ll show up on ballots, ideally as eager and open-minded as they are today.]]>