Speeches

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
OCLRE "Ohio Government in Action" Luncheon
Feb. 11, 2020

(Remarks prepared for delivery on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center)

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

I want to thank all of you for being here, to see the work that we do in this beautiful building.

I’m excited for you to get the opportunity to see the Court in action, tomorrow, when you sit in during oral arguments.

Sarah Stafford, who works as a senior judicial attorney in my office, will be briefing you on the case.

I want to focus on a new program that I’m very excited about.

I’ve mentioned it before – but now it is in full swing.

It’s a free program that we are offering to teachers around the state, to give an in-depth look at the state’s judicial program.

I know Sara Stiffler, manager of the Civil Education Program, and Mason Farr touched on this program to you as well. 

It’s called “Under Advisement: Ohio Supreme Court Cases on Demand.”

I don’t want to delve into the details of how it works, because I know Sara and Mason just gave you a one-hour extensive tutorial.

But this is a program that we are pioneering.

No other state in the country is doing a program like this.

If your school can’t make it here to the Ohio Supreme Court, we come to that school through this type of program.

We are told this by teachers a lot. Many students don’t understand how the Ohio judicial system works.

We set out to pull back the curtain.

We want every student to know how the judicial system works in our state.

This is the perfect tool.

Getting to this point took a lot of thoughtful planning.

I want to extend my thanks to the Civic Education Section of the Public Information Office for making this happen.

Doing so was a challenge.

We had to find the right cases that first, pique the interest of a high school student.

We also sought to find a thoughtful case, a well-argued case, and one with a clear decision – that high school students could relate to.

So far, the feedback we are getting is exciting.

Teachers tell us, the visuals help the case come to life!

I encourage all of you teachers to use these guides.

We would also like you to invite local attorneys and judges to really get the full legal experience.

That way, they can answer any students’ questions on legal matters. 

I’m confident that this will bring home the full experience of how the state judicial branch works. 

I’ve advised our Civic Education leaders to try to find a school where they are teaching this curriculum so I can stop in for a visit.

Maybe I will be coming to your school very soon.

This program would not be possible if it wasn’t for OCLRE’s help.

At this time, I would like to issue a special thank you to Ryan Suskey from OCLRE for his help with this project.

OCLRE has provided invaluable advice and direction throughout this process.

We’ve also consulted teachers – of course!

With such a great response, we aren’t stopping here with this program.

Right now, we are looking at other cases that we can add to this program.

It’s important to me that we keep this Court to Classroom education alive, as we go forward with “Under Advisement.”

In addition to hearing about this exciting program, I’ve been told you had a tour of the fabulous artwork in 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.

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 begins each 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.