Current, future civics teachers stage mock arguments at Texas Supreme Court

Current and future civics teachers from across the state got a chance to hold mock oral arguments Wednesday at the Texas Supreme Court.

About 30 teachers and education students from various Texas universities participated in the arguments as part of the Hatton W. Sumners Student Teacher Institute, part of the Institutes on the Founding Documents

In the past, the training program has included a visit with state Supreme Court justices, but this was the first year participants staged mock oral arguments, said Jan Miller, who directs the State Bar of Texas Law-Related Education Department. The program is designed to inspire social studies and government teachers to use hands-on teaching methods, rather than just rely on textbooks, Miller said.

Supreme Court clerks organized the oral arguments section of the two-day program. The mock case involved a lawsuit over whether an eatery could open inside a shopping mall if another restaurant already held a contract as the mall’s exclusive sandwich shop.

“The project came from me watching students go through this room and have no idea what’s going on,” court clerk Andrew Wynans said, referring to the school classes and other groups that regularly tour the court.

Even many adults don’t understand that Texas has two high courts—the Supreme Court, which handles civil cases, and the Court of Criminal Appeals, which handles criminal cases, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson told the educators.

Jefferson said he agrees with former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who cites a lack of civics education among the country’s biggest problems. 

“I think we should be doing everything we can to make sure our students know what America is really all about and how it works and how it came to be and what the deficiencies are as well,” Jefferson said. “And I think your interest in this subject matter will help educate them better than they would have been without this project.”

Pictured above: Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson addresses a group of about 30 current and future civics teachers from across the state Wednesday in Austin. Below: Educators participate in mock oral arguments organized by Texas Supreme Court clerks.