It is necessary for judges and lawyers to help instruct the public about law and government, and “technology is our friend” in doing so, former Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard writes in an Atlantic online essay.
Justice Shepard, a member of the Justice at Stake board, explains:
“Judges and lawyers have traditionally not viewed themselves as having a central role in public education about law and government. We thought that other elements of society had ownership of that task. But the diminished capacity of some of these elements (especially the incredible shrinking press), suggest that the profession must be more assertive on this front.”
On the technology front, Justice Shepard notes the use of webcasts to provide “something akin to gavel-to-gavel coverage” of court proceedings and inform the public in a manner easily managed by courts and at a low cost.
“These techniques can even broaden the contribution by Old Media: the Indiana courts recently authorized trial court broadcasts delivered through the web pages of newspapers,” he says.
Justice Shepard discusses ways for judges to better deliver a message to the public when a court opinion deals with a topic of wide public interest, and also the timing of opinion releases to foster greater understanding. He further mentions ways that courts can help students and teachers better understand the legal system. He concludes:
“The vitality of the American experiment in government, and the nation’s adherence to the rule of law as the chief mechanism for shaping its civic future, inevitably depend on how firmly the country’s citizens grasp its institutions and engage in reforming them. ‘If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be,’ said Thomas Jefferson. I’ve seen first-hand the difference in public engagement that energetic outreach by the legal profession can produce.”