"Educate and inform the whole mass of the people …They
are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our
- Thomas Jefferson
At a time when more citizens are more familiar with pop culture
icons than the third branch of government, lack of court resources
will further jeopardize awareness of the important role the
judicial system plays in modern democracy.
As practitioners, we understand the immeasurable impact
attorneys, judges and other stewards of the judicial system have in
the lives of citizens. However, for the average citizen, who may or
may not have had any experience with the system, convincing them of
its importance is an increasingly difficult challenge. This problem
is further accentuated by a finalized state budget that jeopardizes
the courts' operations.
Now, with relocation on the top of mind for Trial Court
officials, the already limited resources are pulled to
unprecedented levels. With no relief in sight, the judicial branch
of government continues to serve 42,000 citizens daily while
operating on a shoestring budget.
Through the doors of the courthouses march real people with real
problems seeking real solutions. Citizens who are unaware of the
role of our judicial branch and who are seeking justice and service
do not understand why they are not being served when counters lay
empty of people to assist them. This leads to frustration. The
average citizen does not understand the impact that underfunding
has on their ability to access justice.
If citizens do not understand the role of our judiciary in
government, it leads to a lack of respect for the judges, a
of understanding regarding judicial discretion, and a lack of
interest from citizens to advocate that their legislators
adequately fund the judicial branch of government. Lack of
appreciation for the judicial system can often translate to a
diminished perception of the value of lawyers.
To raise awareness of the judicial system's role in the lives of
citizens, I challenge all members to work with the MBA to promote
civics in the classroom and around the dinner table.
For those MBA leaders who have valiantly tackled this important
issue before me, I thank you for laying the groundwork for this
The work of MBA Past President Kay Hodge, specifically the
creation of a teen-focused newspaper entitled It's Your Law, was
recognized by the American Bar Association. In addition, the Hon.
Mark Mason (MBA president 2006-07) is another president who made
civics in education a priority during his term by working on
various "educating for democracy" objectives. I aim to build on
their progress and that of other MBA leaders to once again bring
this important cause to the forefront of the MBA's efforts.
On the national stage, our own Michael S. Greco (MBA president,
1985-86) as ABA president (2005-06) named a Commission on Civic
Education and Separation of Powers. Greco charged the commission to
partner with and otherwise encourage state and local bar
associations, other ABA groups and a comprehensive roster of
organizations to promote civics education and opportunities for
further collaboration between the three branches of government. An
outgrowth was Constitution Day 2006, a high-profile event that
attracted the likes of retired Supreme Court Associate Justice
Sandra Day O'Connor.
Over the last several years, Justice O'Connor has promoted
increased civics education by extending a call to action across the
country. She often cites an Annenberg Public Policy Institute study
that revealed that only a little more than one-third of Americans
can name the three branches of government. She also references the
results that indicate that while two-thirds of Americans know two
judges on FOX television's "American Idol," less than one in 10 can
name the chief justice of the United States.
"It is the citizens of our nation who have to preserve our
system of government and we can't forget it. And the better
educated our citizens are, the better equipped they will be able to
do it," said Justice O'Connor while delivering the keynote address
at the National Council for the Social Studies Annual Conference in
Likewise, the Hon. David H. Souter, retired associate justice of
the U.S. Supreme Court, has also been vocal on this important
topic. He told state delegates to the ABA at its 2009 annual
meeting that "civic education is critical to preserving an
Greco's efforts as ABA president, as well as those by
high-profile advocates like Justices O'Connor and Souter, have made
a considerable impression on the national stage. However, there is
still much work to be done, nationally and locally. ABA President
Stephen N. Zack has committed to this cause of civics education
during his current term.
The MBA House of Delegates voted on Sept. 16 to support in
principle ABA Resolution No. 110. This well-crafted resolution
encourages all lawyers to consider part of their fundamental
responsibility to ensure that all students experience high-quality
civic learning, including the study of law, government and
I call on all members to act in the spirit of this important
resolution and advance law-related education in Massachusetts.
Whether you are involved in programs in your own communities or
whether you lend your time and talent to the MBA's Mock Trial
program or other organized initiatives in the schools, every effort
makes a difference on this front.
I challenge all of you to be involved and promote civics in
education programs and look for more information from me on the
MBA's efforts, including during the week of Law Day 2011. The 2011
annual celebration is themed "The Legacy of John Adams, from Boston
to Guantanamo," so we as Massachusetts practitioners should be even
more inspired to be involved in making educational improvements
during our centennial year.
On Sept. 17, this year's Constitution Day commemorated the 223rd
anniversary of the signing of our nation's constitution. Let this
serve as a reminder of how essential it is for us as attorneys to
bridge the era of our founding fathers with the contemporary times
by bringing back civics into the education of America's youth.
As Zack recently stressed, "we are uniquely situated as a
profession to do something about it."