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High schoolers discuss SCOTUS, marriage equality
by Matthew C. Clark
2013-04-17

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Carolyn Shapiro (speaking). Photo by Matthew C. Clark


Inside the Judge Abraham Lincoln Marovitz Courtroom of IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, a crowd of students were discussing the possible legal arguments that could be made in Hillingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor, the two same-sex marriage cases that were recently argued at the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).

Except rather than law students, the young pupils were high school students from Chicago and the surrounding area.

On April 12, Chicago-Kent College of Law's Institute on the Supreme Court of the United States (ISCOTUS), and the Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago (CRFC) held a day-long conference for high school students called "A Day at the Supreme Court of the United States: A Special Focus on the Gay Marriage Cases."

The conference focused on an overview of the Supreme Court, how they decide which cases to hear, and the facts and arguments of the two same-sex marriage cases.

CRFC is a program for elementary and high school students that focuses on historic and current controversies involving rights, laws and policy, and uses hands-on learning to strengthen civic engagement and civil dialogue.

CRFC Executive Director Nisan Chavkin said the same-sex marriage cases before the Supreme Court are of national importance, the legal foundations of which determine what we do and what we're allowed to do.

"What the courts decide has immediate consequences for people across the country," he said.

"The courts are mysterious to the general public, and this is a chance to learn about a branch of government like any other," he added.

Don Davis and Kelly Pecak are social science teachers whose students participated in the event. Davis teaches at Hancock College Preparatory High School in the city and Pecak teaches at Maine West High School in the suburbs.

Both educators said CRFC events give students a great opportunity to meet other young people who come from different communities from their own, and learn to address controversial issues maturely.

"So many people don't know how to talk about these issues in a civil way," Pecak said. "They'll end up like Congress and not know how to do it at all."

Davis said that here students could get the facts, disagree and respect one another's opinions.

"It's not about telling them what to think but showing them how to think," he said.

During the workshop, students learned about the 1993 decision of the Hawaiian Supreme Court that declared same-sex marriage a violation of the state's constitutional right to equal protection, as well as California's creation of domestic partnerships in 1999.

Students also heard audio clips of the legal arguments made during the court case though the Oyez Project, a multimedia archive at Chicago-Kent College of Law.

Andrew Nieto is a student a Mather High School. He said he's very interested in law, and describes himself as pro-gay even though he's straight.

"That's what interested me in coming here," he said.

Although he's taken classes on the Supreme Court, he said he still learned a lot from the day's program, especially from the oral argument recordings.

"Actually hearing them makes them feel so much more powerful.

Carolyn Shapiro, an associate professor of law at Chicago-Kent and the director of ISCOTUS, led many of the day's workshops.

Shapiro said one reason the same-sex marriage cases are important is because people can relate to them regardless of their level of sophistication.

"It makes the court more accessible," she said.

The Supreme Court is expected to reach its decision about this case in June.


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