About 30 minutes after Bruce Zager entered the doors of Davenport Central High School, some 55 students filed into Kahler Auditorium to hear him speak.
The students, mostly in upper-level government classes, were ready to go with questions for Zager, who was appointed to the Iowa Supreme Court in 2011.
Zager aimed to give the students general information about what the court does. A native of Waterloo, he was named a judge in the state's First District in 1999, and then to the state appellate court.
That position, he said, is what got him to the Supreme Court. But Zager said his setbacks were equally valuable. "You learn as much from failure as you do success," he told the students.
Zager's appearance at Central was part of a larger court visit to the area on Thursday and Friday. The Iowa Supreme Court justices heard a case Thursday night in Davenport, and also made individual visits to Davenport West, Davenport Assumption, North Scott, Pleasant Valley and Bettendorf.
The tour was part of this week's road trip that included the Iowa Supreme Court hearing the State of Iowa v. Carlos Ariel Gomez Garcia case Thursday night at Central's new Performing Arts Center.
Zager's brother lived in Davenport for 45 years and his brother's children all attended Central. Zager said it was an honor to visit the historic high school.
Trips by the justices across the state have happened since 2011, Zager said. That year, three judges did not survive a public retention vote, held two years after the court unanimously voted to uphold a lower court ruling approving same-sex marriage in Iowa.
Zager was one of the new appointments made in the wake of that retention vote, and since then he has visited close to 30 communities. Zager says the trips get the justices "down from our ivory tower, a little bit."
Like any other visitor to Davenport schools, Zager had to surrender his driver's license in the security process at Central.
In Iowa, the Supreme Court handles about 110 cases, which is more than in other states. "We are the court of last resort and this is the most difficult job I've ever had," he said.
Though government teacher Dan Flaherty's students won't actually study Iowa's judicial system until next year, they still submitted questions in advance of his visit.
Zager took most of an hour providing answers. Some students asked about the court's caseload and its process. They asked which cases he likes (murder trials and complex cases) and which ones he does not like (domestic relations, which are "very emotional and diffiult," he said). There was a question on Zager's ability to say "no," and whether or not he worries about his place in history.
"No," was Zager's immediate response to the last question. "I feel like I'm honest with myself. I can sleep at night."
The Iowa Supreme Court is "pretty divided" these days, he said, but noted all the justices respect one another. "There are ways to disagree and still be civil about it."
Jayson Taylor, a senior, asked Zager about big money and politics. The justice would not share his exact feelings about the 2010 Citizens United case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"There is a constant push to reverse that but it won't happen with the current court," he said.
After the session, most students went to lunch, except Taylor and Imani Gaines, also a senior. Imani wants to be a judge, some day, and Zager spent several minutes giving her tips on how to accomplish that goal.