Federal judges are creating opportunities throughout May for critical thinking and candid conversations with students about the rule of law, as part of the Judiciary’s annual observance of Law Day.
“It’s important for judges to connect with students to hear their concerns and provide context that will help students better understand the present legal system and how they can contribute to building a more just one for the future,” said Magistrate Judge Zia M. Faruqui, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. “It is equally important for judges to gain perspective from students about how the justice system impacts their communities.”
President Dwight D. Eisenhower drew attention to Law Day in 1958, and in 1961 Congress codified May 1 as Law Day in a joint resolution. It is observed publicly every year by the legal and academic communities and has evolved into a monthlong celebration of law-related principles. This year, the American Bar Association is promoting the theme Advancing the Rule of Law Now.
Across the country, judges are using videoconferencing tools and outdoor spaces to continue the tradition of Law Day civics education programs for students during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Washington, D.C., and Mississippi
In Washington, D.C., Faruqui will be speaking with seniors at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School. The virtual program is structured to draw out students’ thoughts and questions about the rule of law and perceptions of the justice system.
Magistrate Judge Roy Percy, of the Northern District of Mississippi, is taking a similar approach with students in a U.S. history class at Choctaw County High School in Ackerman, Mississippi. Both judges are setting the stage by showing a video on the judges’ oath of office and a video on the impact of the rule of law on everyday life, decisions, and rights. Preparation for both programs includes a class period during which students learn how to develop thoughtful, in-depth, and challenging questions.
More educational resources can be found on the Northern District of Mississippi’s website.
New York and Connecticut
The Second Circuit’s Justice for All: Courts and the Community annual Law Day initiative features virtual classroom visits by judges and lawyers. In New York, 11 teams of judges and lawyers are bringing the rule of law message into New York City and Syracuse schools. And in Connecticut, judges are reading children’s books about the rule of law to elementary students and teaching high school students about the protections of the rule of law.
“We are delighted that judges and lawyers are continuing Justice for All’s annual Law Day program of interactive discussions with our next generation of law leaders,” said Magistrate Judge Vera M. Scanlon, of the Eastern District of New York.
The rule of law presentation and related videos are posted on the Second Circuit’s Justice for All: Courts and the Community website. The section also features videotaped interviews with former Broadway actor-turned-aspiring law student Thursday Williams, who encourages high school students to get involved in law-related activities and offers practical tips for achieving their goals.
In St. Louis, Chief Magistrate Judge Shirley Padmore Mensah, and Magistrate Judges Abbie Crites-Leoni and Noelle C. Collins, of the Eastern District of Missouri, will engage with more than 60 high school students in live, virtual classes designed to share practical insights into how the rule of law protects individual rights and routine activities of daily life. On the Judicial Learning Center’s website, a Law Day page includes lesson plans and activities geared to middle and high school students. The resources are accompanied by an interactive whiteboard exercise and online guides for teachers and students to facilitate the analysis of a rule of law video. The website includes links to landmark Supreme Court cases that demonstrate how the rule of law protects speech, religion, access to education, and participation in jury service.
The Northern District of Illinois and the Chicago chapter of the Federal Bar Association are encouraging critical thinking and creative expression by sponsoring a video contest asking students from sixth through twelfth grade the question: “Why are Courts Important?”
“We hope that the contest inspires deeper understanding of and greater interest in our justice system,” said Chief Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer.
In Yosemite, Magistrate Judge Helena M. Barch-Kuchta, of the Eastern District of California, will preside over the court’s ninth annual Law Day event, which is a virtual naturalization ceremony at the national park. Stanford Law Professor David Alan Sklansky will speak about the rule of law after the new citizens take their oath. Students were asked to participate in an essay contest responding to the question: “Does the rule of law keep us free?”
In Miami, Judge Beth Bloom, of the Southern District of Florida, and volunteer attorneys from three area chapters of the Federal Bar Association reached approximately 1,000 students from two high schools with a virtual Law Day experience. Working in the distance learning environment, students practiced critical thinking and civil discourse skills as they talked through the impact of the rule of law on current events. The event was livestreamed to allow for additional students to safely join.
“The program was a logical extension of our Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions program in that it gave students the opportunity to practice civility in their discussion of significant, national issues that are important to them,” Bloom said.
Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands
In Guam, COVID-19 led organizers to encourage students to participate in a vegetable planting contest in celebration of Law Day and Law Month. Organizers from the U.S. District Court of Guam, the Judiciary of Guam, and the Guam Bar Association felt that the rule of law, like gardening, brings people together to find common ground and improves the quality of life for the entire community.
The 2021 Law Month Vegetable Planting Contest kicked off in March with the distribution of hundreds of plum tomato seedlings. Students in elementary, middle, and high school are competing in the “Secure the Blessings of Liberty by Planting!” contest.
In the District of the Northern Mariana Islands, judges and court staff have invited middle and high school students to celebrate Law Day by participating in a photography contest. Entries will give the public a perspective on the rule of law through the eyes of young people.
Related Topics: Public Education