Teacher Q&A: Wolf Hoppe

Wolf Hoppe moved to Ashland 13 years ago from Bolivia, where he lived after he resigned from his law firm at age 60 and joined the U.S. Foreign Service as a legal officer. He was stationed nearly four years in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, followed by several months in La Paz, Bolivia.

He has been teaching on the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Ashland since 1999. This fall he will teach a six-week course on the more important U.S. Supreme Court decisions from the most recent court term.

Is 'Wolf' short for a longer, given name? It is short for Wolfgang. I am of German ethnic background. I spent my first 18 years in the Czech Republic and in Germany. My mother's favorite composer was Mozart. Thus my first name.

Favorite aspects about Ashland: The physical environment; rich cultural aspects, including Southern Oregon University; relative lack of population density; the wonderful OLLI organization; general friendliness.

Give us a few career highlights: Prior to joining the U.S. Foreign Service, I was a civil trial lawyer and partner in a Michigan law firm with 275 lawyers. I was also an adjunct professor at the Wayne University Law School in Detroit for more than 20 years, member of the American College of Trial Lawyers, member of the federal 6th Circuit Judicial Conference, member of the University of Michigan Law School Visitors Committee, board member and president of the Detroit Bar Association, vice president of the Detroit Phi Beta Kappa Association and member of various other legal and civic organizations.

Since retiring in Ashland, I was a board member of SOLIR, the predecessor of OLLI, for three years and served as president for one year.

What fact about your subject gets your class's attention? There is insufficient media attention and, consequently, little in-depth information about the U.S. Constitution and very little information about members of the U.S. Supreme Court and their work. I try to fill this void in my classes.

It is not true that Supreme Court justices are just like baseball umpires (the ball either goes over the plate, or not) when deciding cases, as Justice Roberts testified in his confirmation hearing. Almost all cases reaching the Supreme Court involve difficult questions concerning ambiguous constitutional concepts or uncertain terms in federal statutes and the justices must and do use their judgment based on their personal backgrounds, their ideological orientation and all the other factors that make us individually into who we are, in addition to evaluating whatever relevant precedents may exist.

Don't worry about hurting our feelings, but what have you noticed about your fellow countrymen and women? I think there is a considerable lack of understanding of the Constitution and constitutional law in our country. There also is considerable curiosity about the subject in our relatively sophisticated city. The members of my classes seem very engaged and stimulated when I go into detail about the legal background of the case I am presenting, often involving a 5-4 decision, and the ways different justices reach their different conclusions.

What do you like to do in Ashland during your time off? My wife, Kris, and I take a daily morning walk for 31/2; miles and occasional other hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail or other trails. We attend theater performances, SOU lectures or events, read many books and entertain visitors.

What's still on your to-do list? A few more unusual travel adventures and more thorough bonding with our 2-year-old granddaughter in the Midwest. Unfortunately, it is too late for two old bucket list items: owning a motorcycle and taking exotic bike trips, and learning to fly an airplane.

Why do you wear bow ties? My roommate in the freshman year at the University of Michigan Law School taught me how to tie them and I was intrigued. I have worn bow ties ever since, my wife has made many dozens for me, and jurors in the cases I tried often told me they were waiting to see what bow tie I would be wearing each day.

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