Civic Education

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Citizens' understanding of the fundamentals of civic rights and responsibilities of individuals and the history and functions of our government, including the role of the courts, helps to strengthen our democracy and the rule of law. Our civic education initiative supports educational institutions and other community organizations in developing age-appropriate interactive and engaging learning experiences.

In connection with court visits by classes, internship and mentorship programs, and in special programs for educators, we facilitate and assist in providing civic education training on the administration and development of the law, to high school students enrolled in law-focused courses, public school students enrolled in general social studies courses, and teachers in professional development programs.

In promoting these goals, we have worked closely with public entities, community groups and professional organizations. For example, we have collaborated with New York City's Justice Resource Center (JRC) in its development of civil and criminal law, constitutional law, mock trial and moot (appellate) courts, and legal research courses for high school students enrolled in special law-focused public school programs throughout New York City. We also provide venues and logistical support for moot appellate court and mock trial competitions. The following JRC courses are being introduced in the 2016-2017 academic year:

  • 9th grade: Intro to Law 1; Intro to Law 2
  • 10th grade: Criminal Justice; Criminology
  • 11th grade: Constitutional Law
  • 11th grade: Moot Court and Mock Trials

Teacher's Institutes and Professional Development

In another collaboration with the JRC, we developed and presented, with the integral participation of federal judges, faculty from numerous law schools, and practicing lawyers, a week-long summer professional development program for New York City and Albany, NY, teachers. Held each summer since 2016, the program focuses on the teaching of a comprehensive high school civics education curriculum ("We the People"). The teachers who participate in this special program are selected from among those working in schools in economically challenged areas.

New York City

On June 24 through June 28 and July 1 through July 2, 2019, twenty-five New York City high school and intermediate school teachers attended a five-day professional development summer institute program based on the civic education materials, "We The People: The Citizen and the Constitution." The educational program, which is part of the James Madison Legacy Project, was held at the Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse. Sessions were moderated by various scholars including federal judges, law professors, and attorneys. The teachers also participated in a mock court hearing in which federal judges presided over.

Albany, New York

On June 27 and June 28, 2019, the Northern District of New York hosted the Albany Teachers Summer Institute on Civic Education at the James T. Foley Courthouse. Twenty-nine school teachers from the James Madison Legacy Project representing various New York State school systems participated in this four-day professional education program based on the civic education materials, "We The People: The Citizen & The Constitution." The Faculty Moderator was Professor Christopher Riano of Columbia University. Faculty were comprised of federal judges from the Northern District of New York, including District Judge Mae D'Agostino, Magistrate Judge Therese Wiley Dancks, Magistrate Judge Christian F. Hummel, Magistrate Judge Daniel J. Stewart and Bankruptcy Chief Judge Margaret Canglios-Ruiz as well as other constitutional scholars from Albany Law School and the government. The program was also supported by mentor teachers and volunteer attorneys from the Law, Youth and Citizenship Committee of the New York Bar Association.

Teacher's Professional Development Day

New York City Teachers attend a Professional Day at the Thurgood Marshall Courthouse in the spring, which features discussions with judges, a legal research seminar, and a screening of a film about the work of U.S. District Judge Constance Baker Motley, who was a leading civil rights litigator before she began her career in the Southern District of New York in 1966.

At this year's program, hosted on March 29, 2019, federal judges and legal scholars presented to teachers on topics related to contracts, copyright and trademarks, and constitutional rights.

National Efforts

Nationally, federal court-sponsored teacher's institutes are rapidly spreading providing robust law-related education for high school teachers. They are hosted in various federal courthouses and faculty is composed of judges, lawyers, and other judicial system professionals. Please see the June 22, 2017 United States Courts news article, "Judges Host Teachers for Summer Seminiars."

We also host participants in several internship programs for law students and high school students in our New York City courthouses during the summer months. These included the Sonia & Celina Sotomayor Judicial Internship Program, whose high school interns were placed in judges' chambers and attended weekly seminars on practical topics such as college applications, career exploration and cyber-security, as well as legal research training in our law libraries, other law-related skills, and legal history.

Further projects for the 2016-2017 academic year include collaboration with the New York City Department of Education on the enhancement and implementation of judiciary and law-related aspects of the general social studies curriculum, through commentary on draft materials and the development of components that will enhance students' understanding of the role of the courts, particular legal issues, and significant historical events, and collaboration in a summer professional development program for teachers in the Albany area.

With advance notice, we welcome court visits from school groups, mentorship program participants and community groups throughout the Second Circuit, as well as dialogue on how we can assist educators in enhancing civic education. Civic education opportunities are potentially available every week day (other than national holidays).

We look forward to expanding our civics education work and partnerships throughout the circuit.

Learn More

For materials specifically for teachers and others interested in enhancing civics education, click here. For materials specifically for students, click here.

Non-governmental sources that are available through the links may have restricted use policies or other requirements in connection with the use of particular material. Please note the information provided on the websites and linked materials.

Acknowledgements: In addition to the faculty in teacher programs described above, the courts of the Second Circuit acknowledge and are deeply grateful for the exceptional services provided to the civic education initiative "Justice for All: Courts and the Community" by Russell Wheeler of the Brookings Institution and the Governance Institute, with support of a grant from the Leon Levy Foundation to the Governance Institute.


Contact Us

  • U.S. Court of Appeals Library
    Thurgood Marshall
    U.S. Courthouse
    40 Foley Square
    New York, NY 10007

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    (212) 857-8930

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