Circuit Judge Steven Whittington: Share your knowledge, skills with fellow citizens

More than half of our citizens would not pass a citizenship exam. Engage our youth to stop the trend.

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  • | 12:00 a.m. May 4, 2023
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4th Judicial Circuit Judge Steven Whittington
4th Judicial Circuit Judge Steven Whittington
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  • Law Day
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Editor's note: This is one of four stories by 4th Judicial Circuit judges as they share their insight into the 2023 Law Day theme: Cornerstones of Democracy: Civics, Civility, and Collaboration. 

“Representative government and trial by jury are the heart and lungs of liberty. Without them we have no fortification against being ridden like horses, fleeced like sheep, worked like cattle, and fed and clothed like swine and hogs.”  John Adams.

 I find the above quote quite powerful. On occasion, I quote it to jury panels to impress upon them the importance of their service.

 Was Adams correct? Is representative government and trial by jury as important to our liberty as our hearts and lungs are to our life? I believe so. 

 As such, I was dismayed to read a recent article that reported barely half of Americans can name the three branches of government and that most would earn an “F” on the U.S. citizenship exam. 

 Let that sink in. More than half of our fellow citizens could not pass a basic exam in order to gain citizenship. 

The exam is not particularly difficult. According to official statistics, nearly 90% of applicants pass the exam on their first attempt. 

It is well beyond the scope of this article to analyze the root of the problem. However, as we celebrate Law Day, allow me a moment to encourage you to find some way to be a part of the solution.

Here are three ideas.

First, here in Clay County, our Clerk of Court oversees a program that engages local school-age children.

We regularly entertain groups of students at the courthouse. The students tour the courthouse and meet clerk personnel, bailiffs, lawyers and judges. I am always impressed with the enthusiasm shown by the students when I meet with them and discuss how the court system operates.

Second, most of the counties in our area operate a Teen Court program.

Teen Court coordinators are always looking for lawyers to volunteer as mentors for the teens as well as lawyers to preside as judges during the trials.  

Finally, The Florida Bar established a civics education program called Benchmarks: Raising the Bar on Civics Education. Through Benchmarks, lawyers may volunteer as speakers to local community groups interested in understanding the role of the judicial branch, the Constitution, the rule of law and the role judges, lawyers and juries play in the administration of justice.

Recall the first pledge we made as lawyers when we took the Oath of Admission: “I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Florida.”  

How can a lawyer honor that oath? Allow me to suggest one answer: Consider volunteering your time and share the knowledge and skills you possess with your fellow citizens. 

More Law Day judges

Circuit Judge Angela Cox: Building a stronger and more just society for all. Story here

Circuit Judge John Guy: In collaboration, everyone should work towards same goal. Story here

Circuit Judge Steven Fahlgren: Let us all strive to be civil in professional interactions Story here




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