Getting Engaged (to America)

By Rebekah Page-Gourley posted 02-27-2017 08:17


Whatever your political leanings, this is undoubtedly an interesting time to be a lawyer. Obscure and even unprecedented constitutional law issues are now part of the national conversation. (Or maybe I’m the only one who doesn’t typically drop “emoluments” in the break room?) Lawyers and nonlawyers alike seem to be increasingly civic-minded. People are educating themselves, communicating with their elected officials, and meeting with friends and neighbors. There doesn’t seem to be anyone who’s “just not that interested in politics” these days.

In January, I saw an inspiring talk on the University of Michigan campus by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Susanne Baer of the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany. The justices’ comments resonated with me—especially their thoughts on the importance of civic knowledge. Flashing her pocket Constitution, Justice Baer said, “The law is not mine as a judge; it's ours as citizens." Justice Sotomayor implored the attendees: “[W]hile you don't all have to be lawyers, I ask that you all be informed citizens. You can't improve the world unless you understand how it functions.” Justice Sotomayor described her own efforts to educate students about the law, traveling to schools across the country. She spoke passionately about iCivics, a website founded by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor that provides free lesson plans, interactive digital tools, and games that let students (and interested grown-ups) put themselves in the shoes of people in each branch of government.

Of course, I remember School House Rock, took civics in high school, and struggled through Marbury v Madison in Con Law my 1L year. But in my adult life I have not been a political junkie and haven’t kept myself as well informed as I would like. In recent months, I’ve been motivated to do more. I don’t have any personal political aspirations, but I do want to educate myself more completely about our government and its processes. So far I’ve done a little digging in my old law school books, read some scholarly articles and blogs, started tracking the cabinet confirmation hearings, and ordered myself a pocket Constitution. I definitely plan to bring that last item to parties, if only to embarrass my husband. It’s just a start, but being a little more informed is making me feel a lot more engaged.