Speeches

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
OCLRE “Ohio Government in Action” Luncheon
Feb. 20, 2019

Thank you, Kate (Strickland), for the introduction.

I want to thank all of you for being here, especially those who traveled from the far reaches of our state to see the work that we do in this beautiful building.

I hope you found the oral arguments and the cases interesting this morning.

In addition to court proceedings, I’ve been told you had a tour of the fabulous artwork in the Courtroom, the Grand Concourse, and the Civic Education Center.

Each year, staffers and volunteers provide hundreds of tours to thousands of students and visitors. The total comes close to 13,000 each year.

While we give students a taste of how the court system works and the important cases that have come before us, you, as teachers, do the heavy lifting.

And you do so on a day-to-day basis.

Day in and day out, you motivate and inspire students to embrace the importance of a free democracy.

However, as you teachers know, our democracy is challenged every day.

Even those elected and appointed to uphold the integrity of our institutions themselves are often challenged to put democracy first – ahead of their personal and political gain.

The mission of teachers has never been as critical as it is today – and probably never as difficult.

Teachers have always been at the top of the list of professions whose daily work connects directly with the workings of our society.

James Madison observed, and I quote:

“Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.”

All of you know how important it is to get students engaged in civics.

Doing so preserves the original concepts of our Constitution.

But you also know that we live in the Age of Great Distractions.

Social media is a distraction for students.

Video games ….

It all adds up to opportunity cost.

That means if you’re spending time doing one thing you can’t be doing something else.

These distractions compete with each other – and with real learning.

All of which makes your task more difficult.

I applaud OCLRE for providing so many rich opportunities for teachers and students to get involved in learning about our system of government, how it works, and how they can effect change.

And you are working to make learning interesting – in ways that can counter the Age of Distractions.

The Supreme Court is a proud sponsor of OCLRE and your mission of empowering youth through knowledge and civic engagement.

Thanks to all of you for your commitment to this mission.

One of the key dangers I see today is a lack of caring – or, you could call it, a lack of curiosity – about government and how it should work.

If students don’t know, don’t care, or become misinformed, they will be easily swayed by darker forces.

What is the solution?

From the standpoint of the judicial branch, we must do our part to ensure access to justice, fairness and the concept of equal justice for all.

In the very near future, the Ohio Supreme Court will have an online program to help teachers bring oral arguments into the classroom.

We’ve been working on this program for many months – and we haven’t yet settled on a name for it. But course work and teachers’ guides are coming together.

Our goal is the creation of in-depth studies of already decided Ohio Supreme Court cases.

We’re starting with two cases and plan to add a new one each year.

The lesson plans are aligned with Ohio’s mandated Learning Standards. Each lesson has been designed to meet three or four content statements from the High School American Government Curriculum.

The lesson plans and supporting materials will be available on the Court’s website free of charge.

Elements of the program include background information to contextualize each case for students and engage them with an emotional appeal.

It will include pre- and post-viewing discussion topics and questions.

The actual oral argument recordings will be included – similar to what you saw today.

The program will include an opportunity for spirited discussion. The idea is to pull students in, get them involved about the issues of a case, and have them ask questions.

Also, we’re encouraging teachers to contact a local attorney or judge to help teach some of the lesson.

An attorney will be able to explain complex legal concepts and terms and provide a real-world connection to the legal profession and judicial branch.

Our Civic Education Section is putting the finishing touches on the program right now and we’ll be sure to send you the rollout announcement.

At this time I would like to issue a special thank you to Ryan Suskey and Tim Kalgreen from OCLRE for their help with this project. They have provided invaluable advice and direction throughout this process.

They have worked with our own Sara Stiffler, the manager of the Civic Ed Section, and others from our Public Information staff.

We’ve also consulted teachers – of course!

This new program will give you, as teachers, the tools to get your students excited about the work that we do.

The lessons will show how a case proceeds from the trial courts, and the difference between how appellate and trial courts operate.

You will be able to teach the significance of oral arguments, and how the justices use this time to ask questions that can shape their decisions.

If you enjoyed your experience here today, I want to encourage you to bring your students to the building for a tour and to observe court in session.

If you need a little assistance in getting your students to Columbus, we also have need-based transportation grants available. The application process is in the fall.

For more information, we will send out alerts when the window is open.

Just reach out to our civic education office to be added to the email announcement list.

In closing, I applaud your commitment to civic education.

I know your job can be a tough – yet rewarding one.

In this climate, it can be just as important to teach your students about social intelligence – that is – learning to simply get along with each other as they engage in their school work.

Thank you again for helping students understand this new world we live in.

You are all leaders in these important times.

We need you today more than ever.

You are appreciated. Thanks for your commitment.

And may God Bless.