The campaign for better civics education in California public schools got a big boost recently with separate visits to Sacramento by two eminent federal jurists, United States Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Justice O'Connor was in the state capital on February 28, 2013, to participate in the Civic Learning California Summit: Making Democracy Work, which was organized by California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye and various civic leaders. Justice O'Connor was the keynote speaker for the event, which was billed as a call to action to make civics education a top educational priority in the state.
Speaking to an audience of several hundred people gathered in the auditorium of the Secretary of State Building, Justice O'Connor expressed dismay about the state of civics education, at one point exclaiming that a student did not know what the Bill of Rights was "even with the words right there in the title!"
Justice O'Connor took the opportunity to promote "iCivics," an Internet website offering various games for young students that teach the basics of government, including the judicial system and rule of law.
Justice Kennedy, a Sacramento native, came to town a week later for two events promoting greater public understanding of the courts and the role of the judiciary. On March 6,2013, he took part in Open Doors to Federal Courts at the Robert T. Matsui U.S. Courthouse, the Sacramento home of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. The annual educational program brings hundreds of area high school students to the courthouse to meet with judges and court staff and learn about the judicial system through mock trials.
On Thursday, March 7, Justice Kennedy was the guest of honor at the dedication of the Justice Anthony M. Kennedy Library and Learning Center, which is housed in the Robert T. Matsui U.S. Courthouse. Civic leaders, educators and members of the legal community gathered for the event, which was sponsored by a non-profit group formed to financially support the library and manage its future educational efforts. The highlight of the program was the unveiling of a bust of Justice Kennedy, which was donated by a friend of the justice and will be displayed in the library.
"We are very honored to have the Kennedy Library and Learning Center located here in the Robert T. Matsui U.S. Courthouse," said Chief District Judge Morrison C. England, Jr., of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. "We look forward to working with the community in making the center an important civics education resource."
Rep. Doris Matsui of California's Sixth Congressional District, the widow of the late Rep. Robert T. Matsui, called the learning center "a fitting tribute to one of our nation's foremost jurists." Justice Kennedy's profound commitment to the Constitution and the rule of law began in Sacramento, but his judicial service has touched communities throughout our country, Rep. Matsui added.
The Sacramento Federal Judicial Library and Learning Center Foundation will oversee the new facilities, which are privately funded except for the space
At the conclusion of the Open Doors to Federal Courts program, Justice Kennedy speaks to students assembled in the rotunda of the Robert T. Matsui U.S. Courthouse in Sacramento, top. Justice Kennedy posed questions to students from McClatchy High School during the Open Doors program then joined teacher Mary Wong for a group photo. Retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, below, made her remarks in a conversation with the Hon. Deanell Reece Tacha, dean of the Pepperdine Law School and a former federal appellate judge.
provided in the Robert T. Matsui U.S. Courthouse. The foundation was formed in 2012 to promote the public's understanding of the importance of an independent judiciary, the rule of law in American society, and the rich history of the federal courts. Contributions to the foundation are tax deductible, said Mac Goldsberry, a Sacramento attorney and president of the foundation.
Open Doors to Federal Courts, the federal judiciary's signature community outreach program, supports national social studies standards and is part of a long-term commitment by the federal courts to share in the civic education of high school students. The program consists of a civil mock trial with students playing the roles of prosecutor, defense counsel, and witnesses. There are several breakout groups for jury deliberation, facilitated by volunteer attorneys, which allows all students to participate.
Nearly 600 students took part in this year's Open Doors event. Participating schools were Kennedy, Luther Burbank, McClatchy, Rio Americano and Grant high schools in Sacramento; Rio Linda High School; Folsom High School; Vacaville Christian High School; and Almondale Academy in Orangeville. Justice Kennedy and Judge England are McClatchy High School alumni.
Over the two days of his visit, Justice Kennedy met with reporters to discuss civics education and other topics. He gave interviews to the Sacramento Bee newspaper, KCRA Channel 3 TV, Capitol Public Radio and Capitol Television News Service, and held a press conference attended by The Associated Press, Fox News and others.