Judges need to join the fight to save the courts.
In the longer term, it's time to invest more time, money, and energy in educating Americans about how courts work. Americans who understand the role of precedent, appeals, and constitutional review are most likely to reject attempts to weaken the courts. Indeed, knowledge often trumps ideology. The special role that courts play in a democracy reminds people of core constitutional values that they treasure more than their anger over the debate of the day.
All of this was proven last year during the Schiavo mess: Americans may not be glued to C-SPAN, but when court-meddling hit CNN, they gagged.
There are some encouraging signs. After years of neglect, a growing number of states are trying to improve their civics curricula. In the wake of the Schiavo debacle, more courts, bars, and civic groups are creating programs to educate the public. Last year the American Bar Association created a commission, co-chaired by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley, to boost education on the separation of powers and the role of independent and accountable courts. There's still a lot of ground to make up: Modern opponents of the courts have been at it for a while, and they're not going away soon. Education is not a glamorous response. But if it's going to succeed, it needs to go beyond Law Day proclamations and school assemblies. The courts that protect our rights need their own permanent campaign to counter the war rooms arrayed against them.
Bert Brandenburg is the executive director of the Justice at Stake, a nonpartisan national organization.