Colorado Civics Program Wins the Sandra Day O'Connor Award

Judicially Speaking helps students learn about the judicial system, the easy way
Judicially Speaking helps students learn about the judicial system, the easy way

Since retiring from the U.S. Supreme Court back in 2006, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has been promoting civics education. To honor others who have the same goal, the National Center for State Courts presents the Sandra Day O'Connor Award for the Advancement of Civics Education annually. This year the winner is Judicially Speaking, a program created by three Colorado judges.

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Judicially Speaking is a nonpartisan, public education program started in 2009 by judges David Shakes, Theresa Cisneros and David Prince. Today the program is offered at almost all levels of education, as well as correctional facilities and the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind.

Since it started, the program has grown to include over 100 judges from across the state Judicially Speaking sends judges into classrooms to work directly with students. Typically, the judge will start with a short explanation of the job that a judge performs in Colorado's rule-of-law-oriented system; from there, the students are given a task that a judge might be given, and work in groups to perform it.

"The basic concept of the program is that people will better understand the rule of law and the rule of the court if they try to do it themselves," says co-founder Prince. At the core of the class is the question, 'When should a youth be tried as an adult?' This was deliberate, says Prince. "We specifically design the cases so their heart might want to go with one result, but the law wants to go to another result."

A young student sent in her reaction to the program.
A young student sent in her reaction to the program.
Photo courtesy of judiciallyspeaking.net

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The program started in 2009, but taking it to correctional facilities started a few years after that. Prince says that he was apprehensive about speaking with the youth at these facilities, unsure of how they would react. But they have been entirely successful. "We have the most in depth and thoughtful discussions with them," he says.

"This seems to be a wonderful program," says Lorri Montgomery, director of communications for NCSC. "It's a grassroots program, started by judges with no funding, because they saw a critical need for it."

Judicially Speaking was nominated for the NCSC award by fifteen people, including Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Nancy Rice. "Judges Cisneros, Prince, and Shakes have done a tremendous job developing this valuable educational program and fully deserve this honor," she said in a release announcing the award.

O'Connor helps make the final decision on each year's award. "We greatly appreciate Justice O'Connor and NCSC honoring our efforts. All that we as a people and as individuals treasure about our country flow from the rule of law, which ultimately rises and falls with the people's support," says Prince.

To find out how to bring Judicially Speaking to a school or facility, visit the program's website. Have a tip? E-mail editorial@westword.com.


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