Justice Daniel Kelly Speaks at Business Breakfast Series
On October 1, Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly addressed Watertown business leaders and MBU students at the third installment of the Maranatha Business Breakfast series. Justice Kelly spoke about the rule of law in Wisconsin and across the country, and the importance of preserving the Supreme Court as a judiciary body and not a legislating body.
To open his remarks, Justice Kelly noted that in his conversations with people all over Wisconsin, he has come to realize that the people require two things of a judge sitting on the Supreme Court Bench: a judge faithful to the Constitution, and a judge who understands the difference between a boss and a servant.
Justice Kelly recounted a question asked by a 13-year-old student during a Court with Class session that helped him understand the latter of these two requirements. “The student looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘Who’s your boss?’ It’s one of the best questions I’ve ever been asked,” said Justice Kelly.
He went on to explain to the student that his parents, along with the parents of every other student in the room, were his boss. That’s because he works by the authority that the people of Wisconsin give him. And the terms of that authority are in the Constitution itself. His power ends where the power of the Constitution ends.
That may seem simple, but current and past political climates have hotly debated this issue. Justice Kelly made it clear that he is committed to forming his opinions based on the Constitution as it is written, and not how he may wish it to be. “When a jurist decides what a law ought to be instead of what it is, that erodes the purpose of the Constitution in the first place,” he says. And what is the purpose of the Constitution? To be a law under which the people of the United States can self-govern. The Judiciary, then, is not a boss, but a servant. “I am there for the sole purpose of serving [the people of Wisconsin]” says Kelly.
After Justice Kelly’s address, members of the audience were offered the chance to ask questions. One attendee asked, “Who are your greatest mentors?” Though Justice Kelly considers every author he has read to be a mentor of sorts, he cited former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and current Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as two of his greatest influencers.
Throughout the presentation, the theme of Justice Kelly’s message of servant leadership was clear. “If you have it fixed in your mind that you are a servant, and that you are exercising your master’s authority, that will keep you from doing what you ought not to do.”
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