Consumer Pamphlet: Benchmarks Presentations and The Florida Bar Speakers Bureau
Table of contents
The Florida Bar’s “Benchmarks: Raising the Bar on Civics Education” program offers attorneys presentations that they can use to discuss the fundamentals of government and the courts with adult civic and community groups. Attorneys can sign up to give presentations through The Florida Bar Speakers Bureau (https://floridabar.org/speakers/), and groups can make requests for speakers through the same online resource.
Benchmarks adult civics education outreach is a critical mission for The Florida Bar and its more than 100,000 members. An informed public is the best defense of a vigorous democracy, the rule of law and an impartial and fair judiciary. The goal of Benchmarks is to inform adults through engaging activities about:
- Judicial review
- The Bill of Rights and reviewing laws to see if they are constitutional
- Facts and knowledge about the U.S. and Florida governments and the courts
- Electing and retaining judges
- The court’s role in amending the Florida Constitution
- Voting rights.
Each Benchmarks presentation has an overview and supporting materials developed by nationally known legal educator Annette Boyd Pitts, executive director of the Florida Law Related Education Association, working with The Florida Bar’s Constitutional Judiciary Committee, whose primary charge is to support various methods of strengthening Florida’s judiciary. Benchmarks overviews and supporting materials can be downloaded from The Florida Bar website at www.floridabar.org/Benchmarks.
CLE credits are available. Attorneys who make Benchmarks presentations can receive one hour of ethics credit for up to three hours in a three-year reporting cycle.
The Florida Bar Speakers Bureau offers businesses, community groups and organizations the opportunity to have experienced attorneys speak about Benchmarks and many other legal topics. There is no charge for this service.
The first objective of The Florida Bar’s 2015-2018 Strategic Plan is to: ‘Ensure that the judicial system, a coequal branch of government, is fair, impartial, adequately funded and open to all.’
One of the plan’s actions to achieve this goal is: ‘Increase efforts to educate the public and Florida Legislators about the role of the judicial system and the need to maintain a fair and independent judiciary.’ The Benchmarks program offers one way to do that.
The need for adults to have a greater understanding both of the structure and function of government and the role courts play in their lives is clear. In a recent survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, for example:
- Only 37 percent of respondents could name all three branches of the U.S. government.
- 35 percent could not name a single branch of government.
- One in five thought that a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision is sent to Congress for reconsideration.
Benchmarks is an interactive method to teach about the structure and function of government and the importance of the judiciary. With their knowledge of the law, and an understanding of the importance of the rule of law in a democracy, attorneys are well-suited to engage adult civic groups in discussions about the subjects covered in Benchmarks.
Current Benchmarks activities are:
- Amending Florida’s Constitution examines the limited role of the courts in reviewing proposed constitutional amendments – whether the ballot initiatives come from citizens or lawmakers. Participants review initiatives and decide whether they should go on the ballot. The proposals are ones that actually have been proposed. Participants learn that, for citizen initiatives, the Florida Supreme Court is limited to determining whether they encompass only a single subject and are clear as to what they would do. Legislative initiatives go straight to the ballot unless challenged in court.
- Beyond Labels: Exploring the Meaning of Judicial Independence examines how labels are used to explain judicial decisions – and asks participants to write down “good” labels and “bad” labels. Additionally, participants discuss the meaning and importance of a fair and impartial judiciary as well as threats to judicial independence in our democracy.
- Case Study: Is It Reasonable? has participants apply the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and case precedent to a set of facts to experience judicial decision-making and the function of the federal courts.
- Could You Pass the Test? employs a bingo format to test participants’ knowledge of the U.S. and Florida constitutions. Some of the questions are taken from the U.S. citizenship test.
- How to Judge Judicial Candidates focuses on trial court judges. It explains how judges are different from other elected officials. It asks participants to consider the indicators that they use when choosing judges and gives information on how to evaluate judges and find out more information.
- Is It Unconstitutional? The Case of the Scarlet Tag has participants consider a fictitious state statute that would require those convicted of DUIs to have scarlet-colored license plates. Participants examine the statute in terms of the Bill of Rights and constitutionality and, in the process, learn about judicial review.
- Judge for Yourself focuses on merit selection and retention of judges for Florida’s appellate courts and Supreme Court. It reviews the extensive screening process used in Florida to select appellate judges.
- What the Law Means begins by participants calling out the names of famous Supreme Court cases. From there, they learn what the U.S. Constitution says about the courts and consider specific phrases, such as cruel and unusual punishment, that are open to interpretation, and others that are not, such as the minimum age for a presidential candidate. The presentation underscores that, if the law is unclear or a term needs interpreting, it is the job of the judicial branch to say what the law means.
- What’s Not in the Bill of Rights reviews the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution and the process for amending the Constitution. Participants consider proposing a 28th amendment.
- Who Has the Right? addresses voting practices historically and currently in the United States and explores present day challenges and dilemmas about who should vote and who should have the power to determine who votes.
The Florida Bar Speakers Bureau promotes an understanding of Florida’s constitutionally based system of government, knowledge about the justice system and an appreciation of the role that lawyers play to protect the rights of all. Attorneys who want to join the Speakers Bureau should fill out the Speaker Request form at https://floridabar.org/speakers/. In addition to signing up for Benchmarks presentations, attorneys can indicate other areas of the law that they are comfortable speaking about to civic and community groups.
Groups can request an attorney to make a presentation by filling out the online request form. For more information, please call (850) 561-5773.
There is no fee for having a Florida Bar Speakers Bureau attorney make a Benchmarks or other presentation. Groups are requested to fill out a brief online feedback report so that the Speakers Bureau can improve its service.
The material in this pamphlet represents general legal advice. Since the law is continually changing, some provisions in this pamphlet may be out of date. It is always best to consult an attorney about your legal rights and responsibilities regarding your particular case.
This pamphlet is published by The Florida Bar Public Information and Bar Services Department as a service for consumers. Single copies of this pamphlet and others are free upon request by sending a self-addressed, legal size stamped envelope for each pamphlet requested to Consumer Pamphlets, The Florida Bar, 651 E. Jefferson St., Tallahassee, FL 32399-2300. To view a list of the entire consumer pamphlet series, the full text of each pamphlet and ordering information visit www.FloridaBar.org/consumerpamphlets.
[Updated May 2015]