Friday, July 02, 2021

Q &A with the Supreme Court Historical Society Executive Director



Street Law, Inc. relies on the generosity and support of hundreds of partner organizations from around the globe in order to carry out our mission of educating people about law and government.

One essential partnership is the long-running relationship we have with the Supreme Court Historical Society. Together, we are improving the way students across the country learn about the nation’s highest court.

Founded in 1974 by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, the Supreme Court Historical Society is a private non-profit organization dedicated to the collection and preservation of the history of the Supreme Court of the United States.

“Street Law’s partnership with the Supreme Court Historical is 26 years strong,” said Street Law’s Executive Director Ashok Regmi. “Throughout our longstanding relationship, we have joined forces to become the go-to resource for teacher professional development and curricular materials for teaching about the Supreme Court of the United States.”

In 1995, we co-designed and launched the Supreme Court Summer Institute for Teachers. The Institute has brought more than 1,500 social studies teachers from across the country to Washington, DC, for six days of educational activities that strengthen and expand instruction about the U.S. Supreme Court. The Institute has been lauded by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. who, as a practicing lawyer and Supreme Court advocate, provided valuable input on the Institute’s design.

In 2002, we developed LandmarkCases.org, a website dedicated to providing hundreds of free, high-quality educational resources on the historical cases most commonly mentioned in state social studies standards. In 2020, the site was updated to add more cases and revise past content. Today it is home to a broad range of resources and teaching activities to support the teaching of 20 landmark Supreme Court cases and receives over one million pageviews each year.

In 2017, we launched Street Law’s Free Resource Library—home to hundreds of Supreme Court-themed curricular resources. The Supreme Court Historical Society helps make these resources possible by providing important funding as well as historical and legal review by members of its Trustees of key Supreme Court case materials. Each year teachers download more than 50,000 resources from the Free Resource Library.

To honor this important partnership, we sat down with Jim Duff, the executive director of the Supreme Court Historical Society, to discuss his perspective on the Supreme Court, civic education, and the future.

Q:
Why is it important for people to understand the Supreme Court?

Jim Duff:
One of my favorite memories from my time as CEO of the Newseum and Freedom Forum occurred over a Thanksgiving holiday. A friend of mine brought a visitor from Russia to see the Newseum’s exhibits that illuminated our First Amendment freedoms. When he finished his tour, the Russian visitor said to my friend, “You know, we have freedom of speech and freedom of press in Russia, too. The difference in America is, you are free after you speak!” A profound difference. And, it is a difference that is directly a product of having an independent Supreme Court and federal Judiciary that can find acts of Congress and enforcement actions of the Executive branch unconstitutional when they violate our freedoms. And the courts can stop them. This is a remarkable difference from other systems of government. Preserving our Constitutional freedoms requires a working knowledge of the importance of an independent Supreme Court to those freedoms. It is crucial to be able to recognize threats to this Constitutional structure, both internal and external ones, to protect our freedoms.

Q:
How can understanding the history of the Supreme Court and its cases help equip Americans to address current societal challenges?

Jim Duff:
Understanding the history of the Supreme Court and its cases provides a perspective to addressing and solving our challenges. In some cases that are similar to previous ones, it can provide a road map to solutions. In other cases of first impression that have no case law precedent, it can instill hope and inspiration for finding new legal solutions to societal challenges.

Q:
For more than two decades, the Supreme Court Historical Society and Street Law have partnered to offer the Supreme Court Summer Institute and LandmarkCases.org. What future collaboration opportunities do you see between our two organizations to continue educating people about the Supreme Court?

Jim Duff:
The need for increased outreach in civic education has never been greater. We need to bolster, supplement and, in an unfortunately high number of instances, we need to create curriculum for our schools to utilize. I hope we can expand our collaborations with Street Law to provide programs throughout the year and beyond our Summer Institutes. In a system where powers among the three branches are dispersed, it is important for students to understand the contributions and role of judges and the Judiciary in that balance.

Q:
As you reflect on your years of experience with law and the Supreme Court, what would be your one message to the next generation of Americans?

Jim Duff:
For all of the personal flaws, shortcomings and conflicts among our founders, they worked through their differences and provided a framework for government and a system that checks and balances its powers to serve and protect individual freedoms for all people. I encourage the next generation to study and learn from the mistakes of previous generations, to work through personal differences, and to utilize the mechanisms in our system of government that are designed to facilitate and accommodate change for the better.