"Separation of Powers" Kicks
Off in Harford County
~New joint bench/bar program stresses
need for independent judiciary to state's youth, teachers~
On November 6, Maryland State Bar Association
(MSBA) president Edward J. Gillis unveiled MSBA's newest program, "Separation
of Powers: The Critical Role of an Independent Judiciary," at the High
School Staff Development Conference held at the Clarion Hotel in Aberdeen,
Maryland. The educational program is a joint venture with the Maryland Judiciary
and Citizenship Law-Related Education Program (CLREP) and is aimed at stressing
to young students, as well as their teachers, the integral role the separation
of executive, legislative and judicial powers plays in our system of government.
The need for the program came as the issue of
roles and power within the government has been a hot topic of late.
"I think there has been a growing concern
about the whole issue of separation of powers," says CLREP Executive
Director Rick Miller.
"On the state level, we had the Public Service Commission (PSC) case that
went to the court of appeals. On the federal level, we have the whole issue
of warrant-less searches [and] who has the right to make war… all of
those issues are sort of bubbling up nationally."
Gilliss opened the conference with a speech in
which he read the alarming results of a recent survey, leaving many of the
attending Harford County Social Studies teachers speechless.
"Three out of four Americans can identify
two of Snow White's seven dwarfs – only one out of four can name two
United States Supreme Court Justices," Gilliss recited. "Seventy-four
percent of Americans can identify all three of The Three Stooges,
but only 42 percent can identify the three branches of government."
This bench/bar project hopes to combat these
statistics by increasing the children's exposure to the judicial process,
thus allowing them ample time to develop a logical perception of our government's
system and the intricacies that provide for checks and balances.
"The foundation of our democratic society
is the rule of law," Chief Judge Ben Clyburn, District Court of Maryland,
told the conference during his presentation on the Maryland Judicial System. "And
the rule of law will only survive when you have a strong independent judiciary.
You want an independent judiciary simply because you want to have checks
and balances. The nature of humans is that when power is concentrated in
an area, there is going to be abuse, and the foundation of this democratic
government is to have checks and balances so that you don't have one branch
of government with too much power."
In order to provide an optimal learning atmosphere
for the students, the program veers away from the typical Schoolhouse
Rock videotapes, instead employing a personal-interactive teaching strategy.
"The idea is to get kids and teachers who
know little about the Maryland Court System interacting with actual judges
and attorneys," Miller explains. "Our goal is to heighten awareness
and understanding of the importance of an independent judiciary. [Most students]
have almost no information on Maryland specific courts or precedent setting
cases or why an independent judiciary is so critical."
Students will be given the opportunity to view
an actual court proceeding and visit with volunteer judges in their chambers,
as well as having volunteer attorneys and judges visit them in their classrooms
to discuss the judicial process in greater detail. The curriculum has also
been overhauled by CLREP under this new program, which Miller believes can
have an impact for years to come. Newly-developed materials and lesson plans
borrowed from the American Bar Association's "Separation of Powers" program,
have been edited and distributed to teachers and school systems throughout
the state. A notable facet added to the curriculum is the Maryland-specific
moot-court case activity featuring the 2006 case involving the Public Service
Commission. Cited as the "perfect example of separation of powers" by
Miller, the activity simply explores those issues in the case, including
how the legislature resolved to terminate executive-appointed commissioners,
resulting in the conflict's being sent to the judiciary for resolution.
The exercise further stresses the importance of having an independent judiciary.
"Judges must be independent and impartial
because, under the three branches of government, the only real power that
the judiciary has is the respect of the people," noted Clyburn. "When
the judiciary loses that respect – when we are not accountable to [the
people], when we are not fair and impartial – we lose our source of
Training workshops have also been established
by the program to provide teachers with the proper techniques and acuteness
necessary to convey the information. While many workshops (including the
conference held for Harford County teachers at the kick-off ceremony) have
proven successful in a localized format, a statewide conference is tentatively
being scheduled for the end of March or beginning of May 2007.
"We are getting a phenomenal response from
teachers and social studies supervisors across the state for the materials," notes
Miller. "When they see the materials they want more for their teachers."