Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions




Chapters Help Federal Courts Launch Teen Civility and Decision-Making Initiative


With the integral involvement of local Federal Bar Association chapters, federal judges in Florida and Arizona have launched a courtroom program for young people on civility and solid decisions that is easy to replicate in any jurisdiction.

Chapters are cultivating another dimension of their partnership with federal courts and their communities through a new, national initiative and host judges are bringing public attention to the lawyers’ volunteerism and commitment to young people. In fact, the program’s first event for college students at Palm Beach State College attracted local media attention.

Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions (see the how-to video at this link) is a civics education program that brings high school and college students into federal courtrooms to observe, learn, and practice the civil discourse and decision-making skills that are needed in the law and in life. All of the courtroom-ready resources – which take only 30-45 minutes to review before the program – are posted in the Activity Download found on uscourts.gov.


Southern District of Florida
In the Southern District of Florida, where the initiative is known as Teen Discourse and Decisions or TD-Squared (TD2), U.S. District Court Judges Robin L. Rosenberg, of West Palm Beach, and Beth Bloom, of Miami, worked with local chapters to establish the program. In its first six months of the effort, more than 500 students from more than 15 high schools and colleges visited four federal courthouses to participate in the events. Both judges give accolades to the leaders and members of the local, FBA chapters who made programs possible in West Palm Beach, Fort Pierce, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami

“The Palm Beach County Chapter of the Federal Bar Association really stepped up with enthusiastic and committed volunteers,” said Rosenberg. She thanks the leadership and civics liaisons of the chapter, who did the heavy lifting during the start-up phase. “They recruited the schools and the attorney volunteers prior to the event and were very effective with the students they worked with in the courtroom,” said Rosenberg. The judge described the merits of the program in a Law Day opinion piece published in the Palm Beach Post.

“Federal Bar Association leadership is central to the program’s long-term success,” said Bloom. “Not only do members set up the program with the schools, they also are excellent role models of civil discourse and representatives of the legal community for the students who participate.” The judge thanks the leadership and civics liaisons of the Southern District of Florida Chapter and the Broward County Chapter for their critical involvement.

District of Arizona
On the other side of the country, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce G. Macdonald conducted the program in partnership with the William D. Browning Tucson Chapter. The chapter’s civics liaison and a team of members introduced the program to local schools and volunteered for the event at the courthouse. As a result, the junior class at City High School participated in a morning-long courtroom experience and gave it positive reviews that were reflected in a guest column published on Law Day in the Arizona Daily Star.
“In the jury deliberations that are featured in the program, students are fully engaged as they make passionate arguments using the civil discourse skills we teach and the ground rules they set for themselves,” Macdonald said after his first program. The experience was so meaningful for the students that he offered it to a different school for Law Day. With the critical volunteerism of the Tucson chapter, the judge plans to conduct two programs every semester going forward.



Courtroom-Ready Resources
The courtroom-ready, downloadable materials and a brief, how-to video are posted on the federal courts’ website. For more program information, contact Rebecca Fanning, the national educational outreach manager at the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts at rebecca_fanning@ao.uscourts.gov and 202-502-2611.



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