Former Justice O’Connor:
‘Leaders of tomorrow’ need civics lessons

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor shared her concerns about maintaining an independent judiciary and the weakening of civics education during a judicial conference at SMU on Wednesday.

Retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor at SMU on April 4, 2007
Former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

“A great many high schools no longer make the study of civics and government a requirement for graduation,” O’Connor said at the Dedman School of Law. “Our public schools have to teach liberty to the leaders of tomorrow. All of our young people in public schools are liberty apprentices.”

O’Connor is working with Arizona State University to develop a Web site that will educate students about the judicial system and the role of judges. “I’m trying to put together a totally interactive program that will be available free of charge for any student in America. We need to put this knowledge in this format. If this works, it might change the way we go about educating students.”

O’Connor cited a recent survey by the American Bar Association that showed more people can identify the Three Stooges than the three branches of government.

She also expressed concern about attacks on judges’ independence from Congress, state legislatures and single-issue advocacy groups. Although they ultimately were defeated, recent proposals and amendments to state constitutions would have subjected judges and jurors to civil and criminal penalties and reduced the terms of appellate and state Supreme Court judges.

O’Connor said an informed citizenry is needed to maintain an independent judiciary. “This is one of our most precious assets in this country.”

Also read The Associated Press coverage of the event.

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