Hamilton, Madison, and Jay ultimately succeeded in convincing the public of the virtues of the principles embodied in the Constitution. Those principles leave no place for mob violence. But in the ensuing years, we have come to take democracy for granted, and civic education has fallen by the wayside. In our age, when social media can instantly spread rumor and false information on a grand scale, the public’s need to understand our government, and the protections it provides, is ever more vital. The judiciary has an important role to play in civic education, and I am pleased to report that the judges and staff of our federal courts are taking up the challenge.
By virtue of their judicial responsibilities, judges are necessarily engaged in civic education. As Federalist No. 78 observes, the courts “have neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment.” When judges render their judgments through written opinions that explain their reasoning, they advance public understanding of the law. Chief Justice Earl Warren illustrated the power of a judicial decision as a teaching tool in Brown v. Board of Education, the great school desegregation case.1 His unanimous opinion on the most pressing issue of the era was a mere 11 pages—short enough that newspapers could publish all or almost all of it and every citizen could understand the Court’s rationale. Today, federal courts post their opinions online, giving the public instant access to the reasoning behind the judgments that affect their lives.