CHS Hosts Appeals on Wheels

Supreme Court Visits Campus to Hear Appeals Case Before Audience


Jacelyn Butler

Supreme Court Justice Dan Kemp speaks at Thursday’s Appeals on Wheels program hosted at CHS.

Ellie Matthews and Kendall Watson

Conway High School hosted the bi-annual Appeals on Wheels program in the James H. Clark Auditorium Thursday.  The outreach program, designed to educate students about their state government, has the Court travel to campuses around the state to hold oral arguments for an audience of local students. Justices met with students afterward to answer questions about oral arguments, the roles and responsibilities of judges, and how the courts work.

Thursday’s events began with VIP pictures backstage, and those involved were seated and ready to begin by 9:35.  Arkansas Representative Matt Brown began by welcoming guests and explaining the Rules of Decorum and Statement of the Case. Members of CHS JROTC presented the colors followed by the CHS Camerata Choir who sang the National Anthem.   CHS students enjoyed the opportunity to be involved and learn from the program.  “It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget. It was great getting to see the people who make up our court system,” said Senior choir member Ty Brown. 

The case before the court Thursday was that of Joe B. Nowell who is appealing the evidentiary process in relation to his conviction in the 2018 murder of William Ray Holt.  Supreme Court Justice Dan Kemp began by introducing himself and the other justices to the audience: Barbara Webb, Shawn Womack, Karen Baker, and Rhonda Wood. Justices Robin Wynee and Courtney Hudson were unable to attend. Court officially went into session at 10:03 am. Proceedings began with the Defense Attorney, followed by state’s attorney  and then transitioned back to Raupp for the defense’s final statement. Court officially adjourned for the day at 10:47.  The justices will deliberate for what could be weeks before reconvening to deliver their verdict.  

Following court, students participated in breakout groups in order to ask questions and learn from the justices on a more informal level.  Students found it helpful and informative to ask questions in a smaller setting.  “I really enjoyed the court case and being able to witness this live. This was an opportunity that I had not had before. I am glad that I got to be there and that I now know more about the Supreme Court and the appellate process,” Junior Maci Jordan said.  

When breakout sessions concluded, the Justices were served lunch by the CHS culinary students who prepared a fajita bar with a variety of options for the Justices.  “A lot of students felt pressure cooking for such important people, but I didn’t.  Especially after talking to them, they were just very cool about it,” said Culinary student Senior Madalyn Prince.  

Conway resident, Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Woods, spoke highly of the educational value of this experience for students.  Started in  2002, Appeals on Wheels began after Amendment 80 of the Constitution was passed, which allowed cases to be held in other places besides Little Rock at the Supreme Court House. The Supreme Court travels to different communities twice a year in order to bring the Court to allow the community to see the details of the lawmaking process. “Not everyone can make it to Little Rock. This allows for them to hear a real court case and for them to see that process, you know, work,” Wood said. She mentioned that due to the rise in popularity of court television, people often have an inaccurate impression of how the justice system works, so the program helps to shed light on the appellate process by letting students witness it in real life. “If all you hear is, ‘Well, I’m going to appeal,’ or someone prominent is going to file for an appeal, you don’t really know what that looks like. It’s our opportunity to bring that and to take out all the mystique,” she said. 

In general Appeals on Wheels was a valuable learning experience for all involved. Communications teacher Casey Griffith said her debate students were able to see what they’ve been learning all year put into practice.  But there were benefits even for general students:  “It introduced for them the importance of communication skills, to articulate, to be precise.  It’s also important to let them see an inside view of a court and why it’s important to follow the law,” Griffith said. 

Read an interview of Conway’s own Justice Rhonda Wood here.