‘Freedom is not a luxury’

MARSHALL – Freedom.

It’s such a simple word with complex connotations. So it wasn’t surprising that answers varied when Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson asked for a definition of freedom at the 2013 American Legion Boys State on Tuesday night at Southwest Minnesota State University.

“It’s freedom of choice,” one Boys Stater said.

Anderson questioned the response, asking if it was alright then if he chose to swing his arm so that it struck another person. No, said the audience of more than 400 Boys Staters and counselors.

“Freedom of oppression,” another Boys Stater said.

Having already discussed the rule of law, which refers to the authority and influence of law in society, Anderson noted that the Minnesota Supreme Court was basically the court of last resort in the state. Only one case in about six years is ever appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

“So does that mean we’re superior?” he said.

Anderson noted that he was only the 76th person to be appointed to the Supreme Court in 155 years. Elite as he is, he still makes mistakes, Anderson said. Will Steffl, who was assigned to the Boys State city of Rochester, laughed at the thought of that notion.

“So you don’t think in all those opinions, there are errors?” Anderson said.

Anderson then asked Steffl to stand up, and the two respectfully engaged in dialogue about freedom.

“I have sovereign power, aren’t you afraid I’ll put you in jail or take your property if you stand up to me?” Anderson said. “Why don’t you fear me?”

Steffl responded, stating that he had rights, and that those rights were granted from the Constitution.

“You’re 17, and you stood up to me,” Anderson said. “I’m a senior citizen with a pretty good record, too. I cannot give you a better definition of freedom.”

Anderson succeeded at connecting with the entire crowd during his speech, including Marshall Boys State representative Thomas Wyatt-Yerka.

“I feel like the main theme that ran throughout his speech was freedom and how we administer those freedoms,” Wyatt-Yerka said. “What I got out of it personally was that all people should be able to have the same freedoms. I really admire the work he’s done on the Minnesota Supreme Court for those.”

Wyatt-Yerka said that Anderson’s speech was one of the most informational ones he’d attended so far. He was also appreciative that he was one of about a dozen young men who had the opportunity to engage with Anderson for a short time afterward.

“I think I really got the most out of this one,” Wyatt-Yerka said. “I’ve been considering a career in law, and this really solidified that. I think we’re really his target market here at Boys State, and I really enjoyed all his comments on international visits. It was nice he was able to incorporate some differences from some of the other speakers we’ve had.”

Anderson likened the balance of power, between the judicial, executive and legislative branches of government, to a three-way battle for a rebound in basketball.

“Our Constitution divides power,” he said. “It gets a little messy, but that’s the way it is.”

Anderson then shared the words of historian Henry Steele Commager: “Freedom is not a luxury that we can indulge in when at last we have security and prosperity and enlightenment; it is, rather, antecedent to all of these, for without it we can have neither security nor prosperity nor enlightenment.”

“So even in the toughest of times, you have to defend your freedom,” Anderson said.

As a lawyer, Anderson said he was always taught to question everything. But he said he’d never waver on the issue of voting rights.

“I believe in what Thomas Jefferson said, that you don’t take the vote away from people,” Anderson said. “People who take it away can get corrupt. It’s good to have a nation of skeptics, though. We want intelligent skepticism, but not cynicism.”

Anderson even went as far as condoning the free-expression exhibited by people like Jimmy Kimmel and others who often heckle politicians.

“First of all, you need to be a player,” Anderson said. “You need to be in the game. Otherwise you won’t understand why something is funny.”

The people who get to judge, Anderson said, are the educated participants.

“Woody Allen said, ‘The world is run by those who show up,'” Anderson said. “The American Legion has laid out an opportunity for you and you should show up. We live in the land of opportunity. Your job is to show up.”

While at Boys State, Wyatt-Yerka has held numerous positions in his party conventions.

“I was a delegate to the county and state conventions,” he said. “I was also a parliamentarian of the city and county caucuses, and I was on the platform committee for the county and the state. Everybody comes in with the expectations of doing well, but like Zac MacFarland (2012 Boys State governor) said at the beginning, he didn’t know if he could do it when faced with so many people.”