Sycamore students watch government in action during Illinois Supreme Court stop in DeKalb

Illinois Supreme Court holds oral arguments on Northern Illinois University campus in DeKalb

Hundreds attended oral arguments of legal cases in front of the Illinois Supreme Court in a rare hearing at Northern Illinois University.

DeKALB – Some Sycamore High School students weren’t in class Thursday morning. Instead, they were busy hearing oral arguments in front of the Illinois Supreme Court on Northern Illinois University’s campus.

The Illinois Supreme Court heard two cases – People v. Flournoy and Andrew W. Levenfeld & Assoc. v. O’Brien – in front of an audience of hundreds, including high school, undergraduate and law school students, inside the NIU Holmes Student Center, 340 Carroll Ave. in DeKalb.

One of those students was Nate Miller, a Sycamore High School senior. He and a couple dozen other students involved with the school’s Youth in Government Club received permission to skip class to see the Supreme Court in action.

“We just had our yearly gathering in Springfield a couple of weeks ago, and we heard about this coming to DeKalb,” said Miller, 17. “So we thought it’d be important to kind of see the judicial side because normally we’re working with the legislative side. So we thought it’d be really cool to see the judicial side of our government.”

John Lupton, the executive director of the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission, said the “Ride the Circuit” event calls back to a bygone era when the Illinois Supreme Court would sometimes travel to hear cases.

“The Supreme Court likes to take the show on the road. It’s a program called ‘Riding the Circuit,’ and it basically harkens back to the old days when the Illinois Supreme Court actually used to hear trial-level cases, so they would go out into the counties to hear cases,” Lupton said. “Obviously, we no longer hear trial-level cases, but we decided to take the show on the road and hear oral arguments in two cases in venues other than Springfield.”

The “Ride the Circuit” event began in 2014 and was held annually until the COVID-19 pandemic put the court’s public outreach program on hold. Lupton said the event started back up again in 2023 at Chicago State University.

Lupton said the event’s attendance record is about 600, but he thinks there’s a chance that a new record was set at NIU on Thursday.

“We’re expecting about 700 people to watch oral arguments for a Supreme Court, which is really cool,” Lupton said. “I think if we have more than 600, I think we’re going to break the record for attendance, and that’s a credit to NIU and their staff and the outreach that they’ve done to the local colleges, local high schools and their own community.”

Kristin Miller, one of the Youth in Government Club advisers from Sycamore High School, called the day a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for students.

“[It’s] something that’s never happened in our community, and so we’re happy to bring the kids out today to witness history in DeKalb County,” Kristin Miller said.

Kristin Miller chaperoned students from four grade levels, who she said all were particularly interested in learning about government and law.

Nate Miller, one of the students Kristin Miller supervised, echoed her sentiments while waiting to be let into the event.

“I think it’s super cool because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Nate Miller said. “Obviously, the Illinois Supreme Court almost never leaves Springfield and comes to a place like NIU. So I think it’s a super interesting experience and one that a lot of people won’t get.”

Members of the public, including high school, undergraduate and law school students, watched the Illinois Supreme Court hear cases on March 21, 2024, inside the NIU Holmes Student Center, 340 Carroll Avenue in DeKalb.
The Holmes Student Center on Northern Illinois University's campus hosted the Illinois Supreme Court on March 21, 2024.
Everyone attending the Illinois Supreme Court hearings on Northern Illinois University's campus on March 21, 2024, were required to go through security checkpoints before taking their seat.
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