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Midvale Middle students listen to retiring Supreme Court Justice on Constitution Day

Nov 02, 2017 10:10AM ● Published by Julie Slama

Midvale Middle School students listen to Utah Supreme Court Justice Christine Durham speak during the Constitution Day celebration on Sept. 15 in the Scott M. Matheson Courthouse rotunda. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

This month, Utah Supreme Court Associate Justice Christine Durham plans to retire and a group of Midvale Middle School students were fortunate to hear her publicly speak Sept. 15 about the importance of the U.S. Constitution.

Standing in front of a large American flag in the Scott M. Matheson Courthouse rotunda, Durham emphasized the Constitution preamble.

“It says ‘We the people,’ not the states or colonies,” she said, adding that over the time, the laws have changed to encompass more people, such as women.

Durham served as Utah’s first female Chief Justice from 2002 to 2012.

On Constitution Day, she wanted to point out responsibilities for all citizens. She said that more than one-quarter of the U.S. citizens can’t name all the branches of government and one-third can’t name any of the rights under the Bill of Rights. About 57 percent of those who are voting age cast ballots, she said.

“The right to free public education is not guaranteed by the federal constitution, but by the state constitution and many of our citizens aren’t aware of our state constitution,” she said.

For the students, she provided copies of the Constitution of the United States.

“I look to you to be informed citizens and keep our democracy. Remember when the Constitution says, ‘We the People,’ it means you,” she said.

“The future of our constitutional republic depends on citizens who understand and are willing to stand up for its core values. Young people everywhere are our only hope,” she said.

Seventh-grader Campbell Hone said that he was surprised at the numbers Durham recounted.

“I thought more people would know more about our Constitution and our amendments,” he said, adding that he planned to read the copy of the Constitution Durham distributed after school that same day. “It’s our responsibility to know this as citizens.”

Along with Durham, Utah State Bar President John Lund spoke to students, detailing the life of his grandmother, Margaret Lawrence, who lived just a few weeks shy of her 99th birthday.

“She lived out her life in America during the 20th century,” he said.

As a teen, many of the boys she knew were drafted into WW I and when she was 20, the 19th amendment allowed her to vote, he said.

In the 1920s, she earned a biology degree, which was unusual for the time, and she married in the 1930 Great Depression years. She united with fellow Americans to fight the Nazis during World War II and lived through the 1960s racial riots. Through it all, she still was a patriot, he said.

“Those are all things our country went through together and with our Constitution as our bedrock and our bulwark,” he said. “The Constitution was not simply some dusty document. It was our essential agreement, the one which put this country together and enabled America to become America.”

Afterward, he said that he wants the students to understand the Constitution.

“They should learn their role as citizens—to speak out and exercise their rights,” he said.

Seventh-grader Lisa Hoshijima said that the ceremony was “really cool and really emotional.”

“When Mr. Lund spoke about his grandma and related to how the world changed during her life, it made me want to know what I could do, how I could help change things,” she said. “He motivated me to get involved.”

Both speakers emphasized that they were glad to see students there, learning about their government and the law. Earlier in the day, students took part in mock trails, with judges coaching them through the judicial process.

Lisa said that it was her first time in a courtroom.

“I was nervous because I didn’t know what to do. With the mock trial, I got a general idea and thought it is a good way to try to resolve situations for people. It was a fun way for me to learn about the court system,” she said.

Campbell agreed: “It’s interesting how the trial works and whether it’s by the judge or jury that finds one guilty or not.”

Midvale Middle social studies teacher Christiana Forbush said it was a great opportunity for her students.

“These students had a chance to listen to people who are shaping Utah’s history and listening to them say, ‘the most important part of being an active citizen is to vote,’” she said. “This is the start for our students—to understand the Constitution, the world around them and become informed citizens. I hope these kids got inspired today.” 

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