Vol. 83, No. 9, September 2010
by George C. Brown,
State Bar executive director
About 15 years ago, the president of the State Bar of Wisconsin and I were talking with a reporter for the newspaper in one of Wisconsin’s cities. The president was discussing recent developments in the state legislature and how they were in response to some issues occurring on the national scene. Suddenly, the reporter held up his hand and asked the president, “So, now tell me, what’s the difference between the state legislature and the United States Supreme Court?”
Flash forward to today. Sadly, not much has changed and maybe become worse. Today, more Americans can name the judges of “American Idol” than can name the members of the U.S. Supreme Court. This indictment of the American people was put forth by none other than retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in her keynote address at the State Bar’s annual convention last May. In that address, she expressed her deep misgivings about both the trajectory of our educational system’s capacity to teach the social sciences and “increasingly volatile judicial campaigns” across the country.
Justice O’Connor has responded by creating an innovative online iCivics program to reinvigorate civics education in America. She highlighted the project, which features interactive electronic games, at a May 6 event in the Wisconsin Supreme Court Chambers and at the State Bar’s Annual Convention. The State Bar is partnering with Justice O’Connor and the Wisconsin Supreme Court to promote iCivics in Wisconsin because it complements other law-related education initiatives we have sponsored for decades to promote public awareness of the law and citizenship through interactive educational experiences.
Each year, hundreds of attorneys across the state volunteer their time in support of a variety of law-related education programs. Court with Class brings students into the Wisconsin Supreme Court Chambers to hear oral arguments and meet one of the justices. Project Citizen offers students insights into the policy development process through portfolios and a State Capitol showcase. We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution focuses on the U.S. Constitution and features competitive statewide and national mock congressional hearings. And the Wisconsin High School Mock Trial Tournament brings the legal system to life each year for hundreds of high school students, who work with attorney coaches to research, prepare, and argue a challenging case in front of a panel of judges.
If we are to ensure that this experiment in democracy that we call the United States endures, we all must work toward every citizen having a thorough knowledge of how our system of government, in all its aspects, works. Visit our Law-related Education page on WisBar (www.wisbar.org/lre), and volunteer your time to help educate future generations so that we can protect our constitutional heritage.