An Optimist in Pessimistic Times: Chief Judge Katzmann on Civic Education

Chief Judge Katzmann (Charlie Rose program)

One of the keys to the survival of free institutions is . . .  the way citizens do, or do not, participate in the public sphere. — Robert N. Bellah

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Civic education is a force than can provide the ties that bind.”

Those are the words of Second Circuit Chief Judge Robert Katzmann, spoken recently on the Charlie Rose program. At a time when partisan politics and ignorance of our constitutional system of government have nearly become our collective default position, Judge Katzmann is busy rallying the cause of the civic-minded citizen. To that end, two years ago he launched “Justice for All: Courts and the Community.” Its Mission:

The federal judiciary is one of the three branches of the national government. It seeks to provide the fair and effective administration of justice for all persons and interests, regardless of race, color, creed, gender, or status. Federal courts and their state court counterparts provide a means for settling disputes peacefully, and help to foster democratic governance, consistent with the Constitution’s goals of “justice” and “domestic tranquility.” Those who founded our government recognized the critical importance of an independent national judiciary with a limited but essential role.

With the active participation of members of the Bar and community organizations working through several committees, its activities include:

  • hosting field trips to the courthouse for schools and community organizations to observe court proceedings and to meet with judges and court staff;
  • holding moot courts and mock trials for students;
  • developing educational resources for teachers about the law and justice system; developing learning centers;
  • creating library labs for students;
  • coordinating Constitution Day/Citizenship Day programs;
  • supporting essay contests;
  • sponsoring adult education programs in such areas as financial literacy;
  • fostering jury service; and
  • developing a speakers bureau whereby judges and members of the Bar visit the schools and community organizations to discuss the work of the courts.

Following in the footsteps of his mentors Senator Daniel P. Moynihan and Judge Frank M. Coffin, Katzmann is doing what he has long espoused: urging moderation counseled by knowledge coupled with a genuine commitment to improving our democracy. Can he succeed? That is the question.

With steadfast energy, the Chief Judge ventures to schools and elsewhere preaching the the Jeffersonian and Madisonian and Hamiltonian gospels of civic engagement . . . and those of Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, too.

Duly sensitive to our “red state/ blue state” differences, Judge Katzmann believes in his mission enough to broker this renewed experiment in democracy. Of course, like any experiment, it may fail. But he moves ahead nonetheless; color him an optimist. Again, his words: “Civic education is a force than can provide the ties that bind.”

For more information, go here.

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