Projects by AJS, Others, Seek to Foster Understanding of the Justice System

By Reddick, Malia | Judicature, July/August 2008 | Go to article overview

Projects by AJS, Others, Seek to Foster Understanding of the Justice System


Reddick, Malia, Judicature


According to a 2005 Harris Interactive poll commissioned by the American Bar Association, only 55 percent of Americans could correctly identify the three branches of government, and only 48 percent could describe the core functions of the judicial branch. These findings appear to have stimulated a renewed interest nationwide in public education about the role of courts and judges in our separation of powers system.

Leading the charge for civic literacy has been retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Since leaving the Court in 2006, O'Connor has spoken extensively about the importance of civics education, describing it as "the only long-term solution to preserving an independent judiciary."

Justice O'Connor has undertaken her own project to provide more exciting and relevant civics education to schoolchildren. Working with Georgetown University Law Center and Arizona State University, O'Connor is developing a web-based, interactive civics curriculum for middle school students. This curriculum will have two parts-an educational component for use in schools and an entertainment-oriented module. The curriculum will start becoming available this fall at www.ourcourts.org.

Organizations and individuals across the country are following Justice O'Connor's lead. Consider just a few examples that illustrate the variety of audiences being targeted and approaches being used.

The National Center for State Courts has published the first in a series of graphic novels for students, accompanied by lesson plans for teachers, about how courts work and how judges make decisions. (http://ncsconline.org/D_Comm/OrderGrphNovel.asp)

The Martin County (Florida) Bar Association has produced a short video for potential jurors about the importance of a fair, impartial, and independent judiciary and the role of the separation of powers in our government, (www.martincountybar.org/project.html)

In Colorado, a partnership of federal and state courts, colleges and universities, and non-profit organizations has developed nonpartisan presentations about the role of courts and judges for civic, community, and business groups. (www.ourcourtscolorado.org)

AJS projects

Increasing public understanding of the justice system is central to the mission of the American Judicature Society, and with funding from the Foundation for the Advancement of an Independent Judiciary and the Rule of Law, AJS has recently undertaken two projects to further this goal.

One of these projects is the High School Unit of Study on the Judiciary-a three-lesson unit geared toward high school seniors. The first lesson, The Supreme Court, involves a high school drug-testing case that comes before the U.S. Supreme Court. Students act as law clerks, attorneys, and justices in researching, arguing, and deciding the case. The second lesson, Court Procedure, presents a simulation game about a murder. …

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