The Tennessee Supreme Court was recognized for its SCALES Project as the 2016 recipient of the Sandra Day O’Connor Award for the Advancement of Civics Education. The award was presented Thursday, June 16, 2016, at the annual Bench Bar Luncheon, a joint program with the Tennessee Judicial Conference and the Tennessee Bar Association. Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John D. Minton, Jr. conferred the award on behalf of the National Center for State Courts (NCSC). Justice Minton is the incoming chair of the NCSC board of directors.
The SCALES Project is Supreme Court Advancing Legal Education for Students – a program that was founded by the Court in 1995 and designed to educate high school students about the legal system and the appellate court process. Through the program, the Supreme Court travels to several different locations throughout the state each year and holds court in local communities before hundreds of high school and college students.
SCALES held court at Cumberland University to hear oral arguments for three cases in September, 2015. More than 1,200 high school students from Middle Tennessee attended.
Justice Minton remarked how the award selection committee was particularly impressed by the staying power of the program, which has reached more than 30,000 students in two decades.
“The fact that every Chief Justice since 1995 has supported, maintained, and participated in this program, speaks volumes about the quality of the program — and civics itself,” Justice Minton said.
Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Sharon Lee spoke about how SCALES is an extension of what lawyers strive to do every day in their work: educate others about the law.
“SCALES embodies that sense of duty to inform, to educate, and to share our knowledge with others,” she said. “As lawyers, we help our clients understand the law as it applies to their case; we have a duty to inform the judge or jury about the facts and what law should be considered in deciding the case; judges, through their decisions and opinions are sharing their expertise.”
A defining feature of the program is the time dedicated by local attorneys to teach the students about the cases and how the judicial system works. Attorneys volunteer their time to work directly with teachers and students prior to the Court’s visit and provide instruction on the law, the cases, and generally how the judicial system works.
“Because of the time the attorneys volunteer to the Project, students have an opportunity to discuss legal issues with attorneys to gain exposure to the judicial branch beyond Law and Order, CSI and How to Get Away with Murder,” Justice Minton said.
Franklin attorney David Veile, who presented oral arguments at a recent SCALES Project event, also shared with the luncheon attendees how meaningful it was to be part of the program, and how experiences such as this can create a lasting impression on students, more so than just reading about it.
The Sandra Day O’Connor Award for the Advancement of Civics Education is named after the first woman to be named to the United States Supreme Court. Justice O’Connor retired from the Supreme Court in 2006, and since has become a tireless advocate for improving civics education. Justice O’Connor has dedicated her time to promoting web-based learning tools for middle-school students. She established iCivics, a program that uses web-based educational tools to teach civics education and to inspire students to be active participants in our democracy.
This award honors an organization, court or individual (or individuals) who have promoted, inspired, improved, or led an innovation or accomplishment in the field of civics education relating to the justice system.