At Judges Tribute Event, Justice O'Connor Commends Southwestern Trailblazers on the Bench, Advocates for More Civics Education
Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the nation's highest court, delivered the keynote speech at Southwestern's Judges Tribute Dinner on February 24 at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel.
In addressing the audience of more than 700 Southwestern alumni, judicial officers, legal community leaders and elected officials, Justice O'Connor commended the law school for producing many trailblazers in the judiciary, including several of the first minorities and women to serve in state and federal judicial posts.
Justice O'Connor also took the opportunity to speak about the intersection of education and the judiciary. Commenting that although Americans' willingness to follow the courts has endured, which is important, she is uneasy about the future. "We are in a difficult juncture in our history," she said. "This is a time of very divisive political discourse.... We have to examine and maybe recast our national discussion about judges and courts into something more constructive than just hurling labels such as 'activist judges.' The continuing strength and health of our democracy depends on an appreciation of the fact that we have a fair and impartial judiciary."
In looking to the future, Justice O'Connor is also very concerned that young people are not getting the basic instruction in civics that is essential to understanding how government works. And when civics is taught, students often rate it as one of their least favorite topics.
Justice O'Connor wants students to learn civics to solve problems and to make it a part of their daily lives, which is why she spearheaded the effort to create iCivics, a website with lesson plans, social networking and games to teach the subject in an engaging, interactive and thoroughly modern way. For example, a game called "Do I have a right?" allows users to play lawyers who determine their clients' constitutional rights.
So far, the response to the website has exceeded her expectations. "I'm an unlikely ambassador for social media," Justice O'Connor said. "I don't' use that stuff, but teaching civics is vital.... The next generation is inheriting a lot of challenges, and to tackle those challenges, they have to be engaged citizens and understand the political process.... This is one way we hope to pass on that knowledge."