The Illinois Supreme Court Learning Center opened its doors to the public in a grand opening program on September 20, 2023, where Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Jane Theis and Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission Executive Director John Lupton served as speakers.
Located within the Supreme Court building in Springfield, the Learning Center is designed to enhance the visitor experience at the Supreme Court, inform visitors about the impact of the Court on our everyday lives, and demonstrate the ways we shape the court through elections, advocacy, or even joining the legal profession.
The Learning Center will be the final stop on tours of the Supreme Court, which also include the courtroom and opportunities to learn about the Court’s work.
“The Illinois Supreme Court is thrilled to open this new Learning Center in our historic building,” Chief Justice Theis said in a press release. “We hope it becomes a regular stop for students and members of the public visiting Springfield’s Capitol Complex to learn more about the Judicial Branch.”
What to see at the Illinois Supreme Court Learning Center
The Learning Center includes interpretative wall panels, case studies, and a photographic timeline that explains milestone Illinois court decisions and the history of the Court. Visitors can scan QR codes on the exhibits to visit Court web pages to learn more.
One informational section called “How does a case make its way to the Illinois Supreme Court?” explains the process a case may take from circuit to appellate court, and eventually to the Illinois Supreme Court.
A podium is positioned in front of the “Meet the Justices” section, where visitors can both read the bios of the current Justices and act out an argument before the Court.
And a “You be the Judge!” section asks each visitor to drop a marble in a box labelled “Agree” or “Disagree” to choose sides of a contentious Court decision.
The need for public education about the court system
This important educational initiative comes at a time of skepticism about civic literacy among U.S. residents, according to a recent survey by the American Bar Association.
Respondents to the ABA survey answered 14 multiple-choice questions measuring their knowledge of U.S. democracy, with questions based on the current U.S. Naturalization Test. Most were able to answer basic questions about the Constitution and the roles of the three branches of government.
However, when asked how informed they think the general public is about how the government works, just 3% said they thought the public was well-informed. Fifty-three percent said people were not very informed and 17% said they were not informed at all.
Civics and the role of the judicial branch in Illinois residents’ lives is a main goal of the Learning Center, according to this press release.
“Illinois now joins a growing list of state supreme courts and federal courts that have judicial learning centers that help the public learn about civic education and the important role of the judicial branch,” Lupton said.
About the Historic Preservation Commission
The construction of the Learning Center was funded completely by the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Committee.
The Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission was created by the Supreme Court Historic Preservation Act in 2007 to assist and advise the Illinois Supreme Court in acquiring, collecting, preserving, and cataloging documents, artifacts, and information relating to the Illinois judiciary.
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