Former High Court Justice: ‘Civic Education … Not Good Enough’

August 3, 2009

Editor's Note: This post was updated, Aug. 4, 2009, to include a link to the ABA's video of Justice David Souter's speech. 

Former Supreme Court Justice David Souter, during the recent annual ABA gathering, urged attendees to become more engaged in bolstering civic education. Souter, reported Lynne Marek for The National Law Journal, expressed frustration with surveys showing that large numbers of Americans cannot identify the three branches of government.

Souter said:

I'm here to speak this evening because civic education in the United States is not good enough, and we have to do something about it. I want to speak about the risk to the constitutional government when a substantial portion of the American populace simply fails to gain that understanding. In particular, I'll ask you to consider the danger to judicial independence when people have no conception of how the judiciary fits within the constitutional scheme.

Without some idea of separation of powers, limitations of power and the need to enforce those limits, the idea of judicial independence must be practically meaningless.

A recent ACSblog symposium, "Souter's Clerks Speak," featured extensive analysis of the former justice's high court career.