Patty Mazzei has the wonderful lookback at Palmetto* debate here:
Let Miami Palmetto Senior High School brag for a moment: It has a swoon-worthy alumni roster. The Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, class of ’82. Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, the United States surgeon general, class of ’94. And Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman nominated to the Supreme Court, class of ’88.
Decades have passed since Judge Jackson, 51, was a stellar student at Palmetto, a large public school nestled among the palm trees of the South Florida suburbs. But the school held outsize importance in her life, thanks to a competitive speech and debate team led by a famed coach who molded her protégés into sharp-tongued speakers and quick critical thinkers.
“That was an experience that I can say without hesitation was the one activity that best prepared me for future success in law and in life,” Judge Jackson said at a lecture in 2017.
From the tightknit and wonky debate team emerged accomplished professionals who remain unusually close 30 years later. (Judge Jackson’s prom date? A guy who would become a United States attorney, the chief federal prosecutor in Miami.) Now the team offers a glimpse into how Judge Jackson’s early life led to a Supreme Court nomination — and how her success is inspiring a new generation of debaters to dream big.
The debaters’ résumés are impressive. Nathaniel Persily, a constitutional law professor at Stanford. Judge Laura Anne Stuzin of Florida’s 11th Judicial Circuit. Benjamin G. Greenberg, the prom date turned United States attorney, now in private practice.
“It’s like doctor, doctor, professor, professor, lawyer, lawyer, professor, judge, judge, doctor,” said Stephen F. Rosenthal, a Miami lawyer who has known Judge Jackson since junior high and counts her as one of his best friends. He met his future wife, Mindy Zane Rosenthal, a debater at Miami Beach Senior High, in a competition. (Then he went to Harvard.)
Last month, when Judge Jackson’s name floated to the top of most lists of candidates to replace the retiring Justice Stephen G. Breyer, even Palmetto debaters who were no longer in frequent touch began texting each other to gawk. Someone sent around a photo of the debate team from back in the day, and also a photo of Judge Jackson and Mr. Rosenthal from their senior yearbook.
*I went to Killian high school and we often traveled with the Palmetto team as we were a much smaller team. Killian debaters have turned out pretty good too! -- Just to name a few off the top of my head: Aya Gruber (HLS, law professor at U of Colorado); Jodi Mazer (Wash U; Special AUSA for EPA); David Gevertz (HLS; Partner at Baker Donelson). Some other debaters from that era from other South Florida schools that jump to mind: Magistrate Judge Jackie Becerra, Brad Meltzer, Mindy Zane Rosenthal, Esther Feuer... who am I forgetting?