Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Public Education' Category

And the Emmy Goes to a Civics Education Effort, Featuring O’Connor

The National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ) has been awarded with an Emmy for its film “Fair and Free” featuring Justice at Stake Honorary Chair, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.  As a part of a groundbreaking civics education campaign the film addresses “a dangerous gap in civic literacy in our nation.”

Digital Journal announced in a press release that the Emmy was presented by the National Capital Chesapeake Bay Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.  It was the only award given in the Public Service Announcement category.  Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, a judge on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in Washington, DC and NAWJ President made a statement on the importance of the campaign.

“Each day in American courts, thousands of judges preside over cases ranging from traffic offenses to tax and land disputes, child abuse and murder. The judicial system reflects the fabric of life in this country. And unlike legislators, a judge must stand apart from political and partisan ideas, and ensure each litigant’s case receives a fair and impartial hearing, with a resolution based on the law. That is the foundation of the public’s trust and confidence in the courts.”

The National Association of Women Judges is a Justice at Stake partner organization.  For more news on public education efforts, see other posts from Gavel Grab here.

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New Pilot Project Offers Judicial Education to Tennesseans

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor helped kick off a campaign today meant to educate voters in Tennessee about the judicial process.

The new project sponsored by the National Association of Women Judges and the League of Women Voters hopes to educate Tennessee voters about the judicial system, the importance of fair and impartial judicial elections and how to evaluate judicial candidates, according to The Chattanoogan.com.

“This effort will provide invaluable information to our citizens who will go to the polls later this year to vote for local and state judges. We want every citizen to know just how critical it is to our justice system that we as voters elect fair and impartial judges,” Cindy Wyrick, president of the Tennessee Bar Association and honorary state co-chair of the project, told the paper.

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Court Offers a Civics Lesson to Remember in New Hampshire

An annual “On the Road” event brought the New Hampshire State Supreme Court and a unique lesson on the judicial branch to Concord High School.  The five justices started their day listening to oral arguments in two actual cases and questioning attorneys, then took questions from the student audience.

Students took the opportunity to ask the justice’s about their paths to the bench and the particulars of how judges make decisions.  The two female justices took a question on whether or not they had ever felt impeded by sexism during their careers.  Justice Carol Conboy noted that earlier in her career, she felt people assumed that male lawyers were competent until proven incompetent whereas female lawyers had to prove competency.

While the justices said they could not answer questions about the specific cases, attorneys for both sides fielded questions from the audience.

The Concord Monitor covered the event and interviewed several students about the experience.  A senior from Bow High School commented that it was a less formal atmosphere than she had expected and an overall positive learning experience.  She is quoted saying “I thought it was cool to relate to it…”

Justice at Stake also recognizes the importance of civics education and opportunities to promote awareness of the judicial branch.  JAS has created a program titled Our Courts America with the new website, ourcourts.org to help people understand the role of the courts and the importance of supporting them.  Resources will be provided to help judges, lawyers, and community leaders have access to the tools needed for organizing civic education programs.

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Judge Takes Role in ‘Mockingbird,’ With Eye on Educating Youth

When the curtain rises on “To Kill a Mockingbird” staged by the Virginia Repertory Theatre this week, the cast will include a federal appeals court judge hoping to help educate young people about our justice system.

Judge Roger L. Gregory of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will be playing the role of Reverend Sykes in the adaptation of Harper Lee’s 1960 novel, according to a Richmond Times-Dispatch article.

The play’s run will include talk-back sessions directed at middle and high school students. Judge Gregory explained, “If we want to continue our democracy and constitutional government, we have to have young people — and not-so-young people — believing in our system of justice. And this play is a wonderful venue to start that discussion.”

Judge Gregory is a theater enthusiast and has performed the role of Reverend Sykes before.  Because the play deals with a justice system that is imperfect, it is all the more resonant, he said.

“It leaves you inspired, because there’s a gap to be filled,” he said. “And that’s always the biggest inspiration: not that everything is nirvana, but that there’s still space to be closed. You know, it’s sort of like the crack in the Liberty Bell.”

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Editorial Applauds O’Connor’s Warnings About Judicial Elections

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s warning before a conference of state legislators recently, about the detrimental effect of special interest money and politics on judicial elections, was applauded by a Georgia newspaper editorial.

At the conference in Georgia, Justice O’Connor mentioned during a talk about civic literacy (see Gavel Grab,) “Judicial elections powered by money and special interests create the impression, rightly and wrongly, that judges are accountable to money and to special interests, not the law.”

The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer editorial observed,  ”She did not, you no doubt noticed, say rightly or wrongly. The unarguable implication is that civic literacy is not just about understanding government processes, but about monitoring and affecting and improving them.”

The editorial added, “She’s right, of course. The widespread perception — corroborated all too often by irrefutable evidence — that government is controlled by the highest bidders is corrosive enough to public confidence without citizens believing that the very arbiters of the law are likewise for sale.” Read more

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Justice O’Connor Promotes Civics Education to Bolster Fair Courts

Speaking to a conference of state legislators, retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor discussed the importance of improving civics education in public schools in order to help reduce the politicization of courts.  Addressing the session of the National Conference of State Legislatures, O’Connor emphasized the detrimental effect of money and special interests in judicial elections:

“Judicial elections powered by money and special interests create the impression, rightly and wrongly, that judges are accountable to money and to special interests, not the law …While we expect other elected officials to take the views of their campaign supporters into account, our judges should never be or shouldn’t be seen to be beholden to any constituency.”

O’Connor recently joined Justice at Stake as its first Honorary Chair.

The Associated Press reported on O’Connor discussing iCivics, a website she created that features lesson plans and online games.  O’Connor believes that improving an understanding of the role of judges and the judicial branch, and starting at an earlier age, helps create a more knowledgeable and responsible citizenry that can combat politicization of the courts.

Justice at Stake also recognizes the importance of civics education, and has created a program titled Our Courts America with the new website, ourcourts.org to help people understand the role of the courts and the importance of supporting them.  Resources will be provided to help judges, lawyers, and community leaders have access to the tools needed for organizing civic education programs.

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Another Judicial Role: Strengthening Courts Through Public Education

Before attending law school, Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley taught high school students.  This past Monday, she returned to her educator roots and gave a civics lesson to youth at the Boys and Girls Club in Superior, Wisconsin.  Using iCivics, an online education gaming program founded by retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice and Justice at Stake Honorary Chair Sandra Day O’Connor, Justice Bradley taught participants about judicial decision making, the First Amendment and judicial review.

Justice Bradley told the Superior Telegram, “To have an effective democracy — you only do that by knowing your rights and responsibilities.”  Her public education efforts and use of iCivics as a tool are combating a historic lack of knowledge and understanding.  In 1997 the National Constitution Center  survey  found that 62 percent of Americans cannot name all three branches of the federal government.

Justice at Stake also recognizes the importance of civics education, and has created a program titled Our Courts America to help fill the knowledge gap regarding our court system.  The new website, ourcourts.org will help people understand the role of the courts and the importance of supporting them.  Educational tools and resources will be provided to help judges, lawyers, and community leaders have access to the materials and guidance needed for organizing civic education programs.

For more Gavel Grab stories on public education, click here to view our archive.

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New Website Focuses on Educating Public About our Judicial System

The Center for American Progress (CAP) launched a new website on Wednesday called whycourtsmatter.org. The website is intended to be a source of education for both policy makers and the general public about the function and significance of the judicial system.

Beyond providing information about judicial nominations and legal and policy analysis, the site also contains a section that enables people to petition their senators to work to fix the judicial vacancy crisis. This “Action Center” contains interactive tools that teach people how to communicate the importance of the judicial system to their senators.

According to a press release from CAP, the launch of the website is part of a larger campaign to facilitate grassroots activism around the judicial vacancy crisis by educating the public about the impact of the judicial system on public policy. Yesterday, the Brennan Center released a report addressing federal judicial vacancies and the resulting unprecedented workloads burdening federal district courts. Read more on Gavel Grab.

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New Effort Will Help Educate Citizens, Legislators About AR Courts

In his annual state of the judiciary speech, Arkansas Chief Justice Jim Hannah unveiled a new effort to educate citizens and legislators about the role of the courts.

Initiatives that Justice Hannah mentioned include, according to a CityWire.com article, a multimedia presentation aimed at adults; a speakers bureau of judges and lawyers; setting up public, moderated discussions bringing together judges, lawyers and legislators; and a “judicial ride-along” program for legislators. He also discussed efforts to reach out to teachers and business leaders.

Discussing the most recent legislative session, Justice Hannah said there “appears to be a movement toward a failure to recognize the value of, or for the need of independent branches of government generally, (checks and balances) and the role of an independent court system more specifically.” He continued:

“I am well aware that, even within leadership positions in our state, there is a lack of understanding of such basic concepts as separation of powers, federalism, the supremacy clause, judicial review or the binding nature of precedent – the rule of law. This lack of knowledge produces real consequences. Read more

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Chicago Law Students Get Up-Close View of Life on the Bench

The University of Chicago Law School was visited by five judges this past year as part of the school’s new Distinguished Visiting Jurists program.

According to the Law School Office of Communications, the program is designed to give students an inside view of the judiciary and the role judges play.

The five visiting judges each gave a lunch talk about their experiences on the bench.

“Judges reinforce, supplement, and challenge what students get in the classroom, and the judges get to speak to some of the best soon-to-be lawyers in the country. We’ve learned a great deal from the judges this year, and we hope they have learned from us as well,” said Professor Lior Strahilevitz, who organized the speaker series.

Judge Thomas L. Ambro of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Thomas B. Griffith of the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Gary Feinerman of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Judge Reena Raggi of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and Judge Robert Sack of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals all spoke during the Sidebar: Conversations with the Bench workshop.

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