September 17, 2018 marked the 231st anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution. True to their mission of educating the public about the role of the judicial branch under the United States Constitution, the Informed Voters, Fair Judges Project of the National Association of Women Judges (IVP) hosted public education events for students in high school, college, and law school settings, Presentations were held in Florida at Florida Atlantic University and the University of Miami, among other sites, to assist schools in complying with the federal requirements for Constitution Day. Additional presentations and community outreach initiatives are planned to inform the public of the role of judges and the judicial selection processes throughout our country.
The interactive Constitution Day presentation, More than Words, called upon participants to examine the unique role of the judicial branch in our constitutional design, distinguish between judges and other elected officials, explore judicial decision-making, and consider challenges facing the courts. The use of international examples, relevant quotes and visuals, and the Socratic instructional method, kept session attendees engaged with the presenters in meaningful and reflective dialogue. Participating in the program for high school students, hosted by ABOTA as part of its local James Otis Lecture Series, were Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente, 15th Circuit Judge Cymonie Rowe, and Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal Chief Judge Jonathan Gerber.
The President of The Florida Bar, Michelle Saskauer, joined Justice Pariente and Judge Rowe at the University of Miami presentation. This session included over 80 students from the University of Miami undergraduate programs and the University of Miami School of Law, as well as members of faculty and the Miami legal community. Continuing legal education credits were provided for attorneys in attendance.
Students at Florida Atlantic University also had the opportunity to engage with Justice Pariente and Judge Rowe in addition to FAU Professor of Political Science and Associate Dean Mark Tunick and Attorney Rosalyn “Sia” Baker-Barnes. Events like Constitution Day present excellent opportunities for members of the judiciary to share their knowledge of the law with students, educators, and members of the community, while providing a vital service in educating the public about the U.S. Constitution and the role of judicial branch. Materials utilized in the Constitution Day programs were provided by the National Association of Women Judges Informed Voters, Fair Judges Project.
In addition to Constitution Day resources, IVP also provides materials for public education and community outreach for Law Week (first week in May) as well as general program resources for use throughout the year. Presentations are thoughtfully and intentionally designed to promote interaction between presenters and the audience to encourage critical thinking and deep understanding of the topics. Through education, IVP is working to improve public understanding of the role of the judicial branch in our constitutional design as well as increase awareness of the need to insulate the courts from outside influences.
IVP was featured at the National Association of Women Judges 40th Annual Convention in San Antonio, Texas. A panel presentation entitled Judges and Justices Under Attack: How the Informed Voters Project Can Help included NAWJ Judicial Independence Committee Co-Chairs Justice Barbara Pariente (FL), Justice Robin Hudson (NC), and IVP National Education Chair Annette Boyd Pitts. The panel discussed the vulnerabilities of the judicial branch considering present-day challenges, and the resources available to assist with education and outreach efforts.
Each year, The Florida Bar Media and Communications Law Committee presents an event for print, TV, radio, and online journalists focused on the courts, hosted by the Florida Supreme Court. As part of this event, Justice Barbara Pariente regularly presents on Florida’s judicial selection process, focusing on the merit retention and selection processes outlined in the Florida Constitution. In her session, she makes the essential connection that “…free press and a fair and independent judiciary are the cornerstones of American democracy”. Her presentation features a variety of media, including videos of political attacks on the judiciary from past retention campaigns, creating a forum for discussion of the dangers of political labels.
In addition to public presentations, IVP regularly displays its resources at various conferences and conventions. Most recently, IVP was on display at the 2018 American Bar Association Law Related Education Conference in Chicago, Illinois. Over 100 law-related education professionals, teachers, and attorneys attended the conference focused on the First Amendment. The display highlighted the mission of IVP and the Emmy Award-winning video Fair and Free featuring Sandra Day O’Connor. Visitors to the table received information on the project and its potential uses for public education, including the addition of the Fair and Free video in jury assembly rooms nationwide.
New materials to assist with voter education programs addressing judicial selection processes, how judges are different from other elected officials, and the role of the judiciary, are now available on the IVP website at www.ivp.nawj.org. A program on Judging the Judges will be held in October at the San Diego YMCA to address judicial selection and what to look for in voting for judges. Judge Judith McConnell is assisting with the program.
For more information or to seek assistance with adapting a presentation specifically for use in your state, contact Annette Boyd Pitts, IVP National Education Chair at firstname.lastname@example.org.