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During S.C. Supreme Court visit, justice – and breakfast – were served

South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Beatty talks with Furman students over breakfast before a public hearing in McAlister Auditorium in October 2023.

Last updated November 2, 2023

By Furman News

For two days in October, the five justices of the South Carolina Supreme Court held sessions in McAlister Auditorium in a visit presented by The Riley Institute.

The temporary change in venue was part of an effort to make the state’s judicial workings more transparent and teach citizens about the law. Furman President Elizabeth Davis welcomed Furman students and others from the Greenville, South Carolina, community – including many potential future Paladins – to take advantage of the educational opportunity.

“If you are a student from a local high school, I hope you are fascinated by the judicial processes you observe today – and are considering attending Furman University,” said Davis. “Today represents just one way that our students can learn and grow beyond the classroom.”

Litigants gave oral arguments in two cases per day, just as they would have in the Supreme Court Building on Gervais Street in downtown Columbia. Spectators were free to ask the justices about anything except the day’s cases. The court had held sessions at other South Carolina universities in 2022 and earlier this year. The Furman visit was originally slated for 2019, but the court’s campus tour was rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Clockwise from top: South Carolina Supreme Court Justice John Kitttredge talks with Blake Harris ’24, Jaeyden Hill-Mims ’24, Cristian Gomez ’26 and Lilly Meyer ’24 before a hearing in McAlister Auditorium in October 2023.

Before Chief Justice Donald Beatty gaveled the court into each session, however, it was time for breakfast. At receptions before each morning session, the justices made room at the tables for students from The Riley Institute’s Advance Team, Mock Trial competitors and members of the Pre-Law Society executive committee.

“Each day that the Supreme Court of South Carolina was on campus, 20 Furman students who have an interest in public policy and the law were able to join the justices for breakfast,” said Don Gordon, executive director of The Riley Institute.

Isabella Restrepo ’25, a politics and international affairs and French double major and member of the Pre-Law Society, found the justices to be surprisingly approachable.

“Even though the justices hold so much power in the court, they’re really just people, too,” said the Mock Trial and Advance Team member. “They were as interested in getting to know us as we were them.”

The chance to network and discuss public policy with peers and high-profile speakers inspired Restrepo to join the Advance Team as a sophomore. In addition to helping staff the Supreme Court sessions and other public events hosted by The Riley Institute, the team meets regularly to talk about issues such as immigration policy and health care.

Restrepo, who plans to attend law school and enter law or politics, is grateful to have had direct access to the state’s highest court in her own backyard.

“I’ve been exposed to regular circuit courts and criminal courts, but this is so different,” she said. “It’s interesting to see that firsthand without having to drive down to Columbia.”

Cristian Gomez ’26, Restrepo’s Advance Team and Mock Trial teammate and a fellow Pre-Law Society member, was particularly impressed with Beattie as well as Justice John Kittredge, who gave insight into his day-to-day challenges and priorities.

“It involves a lot of communication on his part with the defendant and other people involved in the cases,” Gomez said. “He stressed the importance of making sure that everyone is heard to ensure the fairness of the trial and allow for clear arguments on everyone’s part. That’s really one of the overlooked areas of the system.”

The Hearst Fellow and future law school student was “shocked” to learn he would be meeting with the justices over breakfast, he said.

“I never thought that you could meet a Supreme Court justice in person,” said Gomez. “I want to be a judge one day, so it was a really great opportunity for me.”

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