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Judicial panel promotes civic education

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The Indiana Supreme Court hosted a panel discussion recently to discuss the broad topic of judicial independence, taking a lesson about how the courts operate to an Indianapolis college campus.

Adopting an American Bar Association Judicial Division project known as “The Least Understood Branch,” the event drew in more than 200 people Feb. 15 at Martin University. It was part of the court’s celebration of Black History Month. The program is a result of efforts by Disciplinary Committee Executive Secretary G. Michael Witte, who chairs the ABA’s Judicial Division and has created and hosted these events nationally.

Responding to the rising number of attacks on the judicial branch by the executive and legislative branches and the public nationwide, Witte said he wanted to spend his year in that ABA role emphasizing civic education to make sure everyone understands what is at stake.

“The public sometimes forgets that the judicial branch has to follow the rule of law, rather than what’s popular opinion,” he said. “I think this all indicates why there should be a call for civic education in our nation’s schools, and also why the legal profession as a whole must rise to defend our fair and impartial judiciary and the rule of law.”

Marion Superior Judge David Dreyer moderated a panel discussion on judicial independence that asked “Is it we the people, or we the courts?” Members of that panel included U.S. Judge Sarah Evans Barker from the Southern District of Indiana, Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis political and law professor John Hill, and IUPUI journalism professor Dan Drew, who has reported on the courts.

Beginning the discussion, Judge Dreyer asked the panelists about judicial selection and Hill responded that elections can be a “black hole” and discussed how Iowa can be viewed as an example of how judicial elections based on public opinion go against the whole point of the judiciary’s obligation to follow the law. In that state, the Supreme Court upheld same sex marriages, and voters in November tossed those jurists from the bench as a result of that unpopular opinion.

“You don’t write for the public, but you’re mindful of the confusion out there on an issue of the law,” Judge Barker said. “You write based on the law, but you don’t live in a vacuum and you don’t want to soapbox it.”

Indiana Supreme Court Justice Robert Rucker also spoke about the state’s various judicial selection systems and Supreme Court operations.

In honor of Black History Month, the program included past Indiana State Bar Association president Rod Morgan, an attorney at Bingham McHale, who talked about an Indianapolis African-American attorney named John Morton Finney who was admitted to the state bar in 1935 and practiced until age 105.

The Indiana courts used Facebook to publicize the program, and it posted photos and information after the event. The page can be found at http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Indianas-Least-Understood-Branch/181048511917643.•

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  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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