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Kid Reporters Get First Interview With Retired Justice

October 8, 1990

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ A group of young reporters scored a journalistic coup by interviewing retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr., who told them he was not sure he could ″fully agree″ with the choice of his successor.

After suffering a stroke, Brennan retired in July under doctor’s orders to reduce his workload and decline all interviews until at least next year.

But five reporters and editors from the Indianapolis Children’s Express bureau spent 30 minutes last month interviewing the 84-year-old Brennan, the most powerful liberal voice on an increasingly conservative court. Their interview was published in Monday’s Indianapolis Star.

The team peppered Brennan with questions about children’s rights, abortion, drug testing, the death penalty for minors and the mentally retarded, the Equal Rights Amendment and his replacement on the court, David H. Souter, who was confirmed last week.

They said Brennan dodged most questions on the newest justice, but indicated he wasn’t pleased with him.

″I could hope that the philosophy of the appointment was something with which I could fully agree, but I’m not sure that I can say that,″ Brennan said.

″It wasn’t so much like we were scooping anybody. We were just talking,″ said Wendy Potasnik, 17.

″It was more like a conversation than an interview,″ agreed Lisa Schubert, 10. ″I mean, I’d ask him the same questions as if I’d ran into him one day.″

The interview was arranged with the help of Brennan’s daughter, Nancy, who is a friend of Peter Sterling, president of The Children’s Museum. The museum houses the Children’s Express bureau, which publishes a one-page, weekly report in The Indianapolis Star on issues of interest to youngsters.

The Children’s Express organization has bureaus in several U.S. cities as well as Australia and New Zealand, said Lynn Sygiel, the adult who oversees the group’s Indianapolis bureau.

The New York-based organization used to publish a magazine but now syndicates its material, as well as publishing a newsletter for the children involved in the organization, she said.

Brennan gave the children a warm welcome at his office in the Supreme Court building in Washington. The Sept. 28 session ended with Brennan dressed in a bright red Children’s Express sweatshirt and mugging for a camera.

Before interviewing Brennan, the young reporters carefully researched his 34-year tenure on the bench. Ms. Sygiel said the team met twice a week for six weeks reviewing newspaper and magazine articles on Brennan and some of the more than 1,200 opinions he wrote.

After the interview, the Express team said Brennan’s diminutive stature and informal air surprised them.

Kia Woodson, 11, said she expected to hear long, windy answers laced with legal jargon. Instead the group got brief responses, which they characterized as evasive and talking down to them.

Despite the short answers, the young journalists felt they gained something positive from the experience.

″Brennan has done so much in the last 34 years, seeing him, it doesn’t make me understand the Constitution, but it makes me understand why it’s the way it is,″ said Rob Merrill, 15.

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