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The Constitution: A Judicial Toolbelt

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Guest Message By

Hon. Julia Alloggiament
Superior Court of California,
County of Santa Clara

 

Some years ago, after speaking at a community event, I headed out to my car to load up my materials with the assistance of a SJPD officer who had also attended the event.  When I opened my trunk, she laughed out loud.  There in my trunk was a poster sized version of the United States Constitution including the preamble and a summary of the first three Articles.  On the back side was a blown up version of the Bill of Rights.  “Seriously?!,” she asked me, “You carry a giant version of the Constitution with you everywhere you go?”  I answered, “You have your tools, we have ours.”

 

Most people in the community do not necessarily realize that in the legal profession we use that tool, the Constitution - a document created over 230 years ago - every day.  We rely on it to uphold the principles our country was founded on, to protect the rights of our citizens, and to embrace the separation of powers.

 

As a judge, I took an oath swearing that I “will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic.  That I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California.  That I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.  And that I will well and faithful discharges [these] duties…”

 

I know that my colleagues and I take that oath and our obligations seriously and are committed to upholding and applying the basic foundations of the Constitution.  Daily we are asked to rule on many matters whose outcomes are driven by the Constitution, including (to name just a few) issues related to search and seizure, the right to a trial, the right to counsel, and the right to confront witnesses.  Fundamentally, a judge’s role is to ensure, for everyone who walks through the courtroom doors, that they are guaranteed equal protection and due process of law. 

 

The day designated to recognize and celebrate this historic document is quickly approaching:  September 17 is designated as “Constitution Day,” commemorating the signing of the United States Constitution.  Federal law mandates that all publicly funded educational institutions provide educational programming on September 17th about the history of the American Constitution.  Who better to do this than the judges who use this tool in their job every day? So, every year, over 30 judicial officers from the Santa Clara County Superior Court reach out to more than 3,200 students from approximately 40 schools to honor and celebrate Constitution Day.  Judges, donning their black robes, go into the schools and teach a grade-level appropriate lesson complete with a fun quiz game followed by an open Q & A with the judge.  

 

This is only one of the many programs organized by the Court Community Outreach Committee to help educate students and the community as a whole about the justice system.  The Court Community Outreach Committee is comprised of judges along with numerous law and education partners with whom we collaborate - including the Santa Clara County Bar Association, the Santa Clara County Office of Education, San Jose Unified School District, the Offices of the District Attorney and Public Defender, Probation, LACY, the Self-Help Center, and more. 

 

As the court strengthens its connections with the schools, we hope to increase participation in these types of programs, especially with an eye to expanding outreach efforts into some of the more underrepresented areas of our county.  As the number of judges countywide is limited, our ability to reach more students will rest on the participation of our partners, including lawyers in the community.  That is why we are thrilled to see the SCCBA training lawyers through the American Constitutional Society’s (ACS) “Constitution in the Classroom Program” as well as the SCCBA’s general call for lawyers to get involved. (See SCCBA President’s Messages from 3/2/18 and 4/2/18). 

 

In addition to Constitution Day, the Court Community Outreach Committee organizes numerous other programs: Educators Day (educating our educators about issues intersecting the legal and education systems), Clergy Day (giving clergy insight and understanding of legal issues as well as court services), Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties (with a community event and a court event for the legal community), Read Across America, Law Day (designated to celebrate the Rule of Law which includes Poster Contests, Law Day Essay and Poetry Contests, Panel Presentations, Speaking Engagements, and the infamous rivalry between the bar and the court on who can get the most attendees at the Law Day Mixer), Speakers Bureau, Court Tours, Mock Trials, and more.  We are also happy to join forces with our partners in their programs, such as presiding over the trials in the annual Mock Trial Competition run by the SCCBA and the Santa Clara County Office of Education.  Anyone can request a court tour, mock trial at the courthouse, or a judicial officer for a speaking engagement on the Superior Court website:

http://www.scscourt.org/general_info/community/community.shtml

 

As Ben Franklin himself said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”  By connecting with our young students today, we are educating our future jurors, lawyers, judges, legislators, and leaders on the importance of the rule of law.  Moreover, our outreach programs have the added benefit of demonstrating to children and adults alike that the judges in our county encompass a diverse group, representing many different backgrounds, genders, ages, races, and ethnicities but all of whom share a common goal of supporting and defending the Constitution and guaranteeing equal rights and due process for all.  As we approach our celebration of the Constitution on September 17, I encourage all members of the legal community to participate, get involved, and educate.  If you are interested in getting involved in law-related education efforts, please contact Melanie Griswold, the SCCBA’s Law Related Education Chair, at mgriswold@DAO.SCCGOV.ORG.  I guarantee you will find the experience to be enlightening and rewarding 

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