In honor of Constitution Day on Sept. 17, the local chapter of the Advanced Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA) will host 90 public school students at the Robert H. Jackson United States Courthouse.
It's a fitting locale, given the fact that as students enter the building they will come face to face with all 4,536 words of the U.S. Constitution etched into the glass walls of the foyer. The event also offers a chance for chapter members to share their passion for law with the next generation.
Students from Hutchinson Central Technical High School, the Emerson School of Hospitality and Middle Early College High School will attend. The event will be streamed via a video feed and made available to the Buffalo Public Schools system.
Michael Perley of ABOTA said he hopes the schools take advantage of the chance to get a look inside the federal courtroom of Chief Judge William Skretny and listen in as attorneys from across the region use a historic case with Buffalo ties to examine the importance of the Constitution.
"One of the fundamental principles of ABOTA is the preservation of the Constitutional guarantees in the Bill of Rights," Perley said. "It goes beyond its initial stated purpose of preserving the Seventh Amendment right to a civil jury trial and is extended to the broader protection of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. And that's what we hope to share with the students."
The chapter will present the James Otis Lecture, targeted to high school juniors and seniors. He described it as a "somewhat higher-level presentation" of key aspects of the Bill of Rights.
"We saw this as a great opportunity for the Federal Court to become involved, and Judge Skretny and his staff have been so accommodating to bring this together," he said. "We hope that this is going to make it an even more memorable experience for these students."
The program centers around Korematsu v. the United States of America, the famous Japanese internment camp case brought before the Supreme Court during the tenure of Western New York native Robert H. Jackson, for whom the courthouse is named.
"From there we will move to other issues that deal with individual rights addressing when, and to what extent, government can limit those rights," Perley said.
The second half of the program will offer a chance for students to interact with attorneys.
"During lunch, we will have moderators at each lunch table and it will be a time to engage in a discussion of broader issues with the students," he said.
Hilary Banker is president of the Buffalo chapter of ABOTA.
"It's a federal mandate that any school that receives federal funding has to do something on Constitution Day," Banker said. "We are glad to be able to be part of that lesson and to use this lecture as a platform to do that. This is a great opportunity for students who are interested in history and interested in the Constitution to experience a discussion like this and to hear from the Chief Judge of the Court, Judge Skretny."
Chapter members will cite the principles of Jackson's dissent in the Korematsu case and discuss with students how they might apply to modern issues of immigration policy.
"We will also look at how his ruling might affect the stop-and-frisk cases from New York City as another example," she said.
Besides Skretny and Perley, students will hear from Greg Peterson, an attorney with Phillips Lytle and co-founder of the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown.
"The (center) is a major player in the presentation," Perley said. "They have provided us with a wealth of material on Justice Jackson including literature that we will be giving out to the kids."
Peterson said he is looking forward to the event.
"As co-founder of the Jackson Center, I think it is important that we pause and reflect on the principal law in the country, the Constitution," he said. "What is always important is to notice how our day-to-day lives are controlled by how often the U.S. Supreme Court views the application of the Constitution to its citizenry."
Peterson said he sees real value in personalizing a case such as Korematsu v. United States for students' benefit.
"At the Jackson Center, we thought this case could be personalized, and we felt it would have relevance to the students today," he said.
Given his work in preserving the legacy of Jackson, what does Peterson think about the notion that in general, today's youth lack a strong understanding and/or interest in the rich history of the legal system?
"I do think it's critical to make principles that were established many years ago relevant today, so I see this as a great opportunity for the students. And I am thrilled that it is happening in the Robert H. Jackson Federal Courthouse," he said.
Perley, meanwhile, said although there isn't a formal plan at the national level about the future of the ABOTA-led Constitution Day program, said he and Banker have talked and would like to make it an annual event.
"There would be a lot to work out in terms of location and schools," he said. "But we would like to see this again next year."