Judicial outreach at the Thomas F. Eagleton Courthouse in St. Louis, Missouri, starts in the lobby of the 28-story building. That’s the location of the Judicial Learning Center (JLC), which hosts some 5,000 visitors a year. The JLC is a living and breathing educational forum on the rule of law and the role of federal and state courts. The JLC in St. Louis was the first educational center in the country devoted to federal judicial process and has inspired other courts to develop similar exhibits and programs. The JLC, which this fall celebrates the 10th anniversary of its opening, is a three-time winner of the ABA’s Outstanding Law Day Award. The JLC is a space with mock courtrooms and interactive exhibits; it includes oral histories of renowned jurists and activities that effectively explain how our independent judicial system administers justice in the face of today’s challenges. There are also exhibits highlighting noteworthy cases that were tried or heard in St. Louis. Cases such as Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Company and City of Ladue v. Gilleo are displayed as case files on a mock counsel table.
Evolution of an Idea
In the early planning stages for the Eagleton Courthouse, Edward Filippine, who was then the chief judge of the district court, was approached by several prominent St. Louis area lawyers, who suggested that the new building contain a space dedicated to the history of the judiciary. The lawyers formed a nonprofit corporation, the Judicial Learning Center Inc., to further the project, and Judge Filippine was able to secure the space on the first floor of the building. The nonprofit corporation held its first board of directors meeting in December 2000.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry got involved with the project early in the planning process. Judge Perry recalls that initially the plan was for a museum dedicated to the history of the Eastern District of Missouri. “I initially thought we would put in a historical space that would include photos of past judges and some history of the court,” said Judge Perry. After meeting with the lawyers who were leading the effort, a decision was made to have an exhibit space that would teach about the judiciary rather than a historical space. Judge Perry said the idea was for people to be able to come and learn about the judiciary and its role in our constitutional form of government. That was when the idea evolved from a historical space to a learning center. Judge Perry worked with lawyers from the nonprofit corporation and with the clerk of the district court, Jim Woodward, to make the learning center a reality. They formed an education task force that included representatives from the Eighth Circuit Clerk’s Office, the Missouri Historical Society, and the St. Louis Public Schools, as well as the Missouri Bar Association director of citizenship education, a civics education expert, lawyers, and law students.
The Making of the Judicial Learning Center
The task force began developing plans for the center, determining what content should be included, but the JLC could not become a reality without funding. Federal courts and federal judges may not solicit funds, so the lawyers on the JLC board launched a fundraising campaign. “Raising money for a project like this is really hard because the judges can’t ask and we can’t acknowledge the people who gave money,” says Judge Perry, “so there is no plaque on the wall saying who gave money for this.” Lawyers and law firms gave generously to achieve the original goal to make the concept a reality.
In the meantime, the task force, along with Judge Perry and Woodward, began determining what should be included in the JLC. Working from a book of ideas that had been gathered by a law student intern, they began curating content. After a bidding process, the board enlisted Taylor Studios Inc. for exhibit design and layout assistance. In determining what should be included in the space, there was a decision to have four main takeaways: (1) rule of law and separation of powers; (2) the difference between state and federal courts; (3) court process—what happens at trial and sample cases; and (4) the Eighth Circuit’s jurisdiction. Working with Taylor Studios, Judge Perry and Woodward made the final decisions regarding what should be included in the space. Once the design was completed, the designers fabricated the exhibits off-site and then installed them in the space. The nonprofit board paid for the exhibit design and fabrication and then donated the completed exhibits to the court for use in the JLC.
The Reality of the Judicial Learning Center
On February 25, 2009, retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor helped dedicate the opening of the Judicial Learning Center. Shortly after the JLC was opened, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri combined resources to hire an outreach coordinator in order to increase visitation and use of the center and to expand the court’s outreach offerings. In 2010, Rachel Marshall became the public education and community outreach administrator. She, with the help of other court staff, coordinates tours of the JLC and the courthouse for public and private schools throughout Missouri and southern Illinois. She also works with Boy Scout and Girl Scout programs, and student essay and art contests on law-related themes. Monthly seminars for senior citizens are offered through a local organization called OASIS. Marshall and the JLC coordinate all-day programs for high school students, such as the 2019 Law Day program and mock trial on “Free Speech, Free Press, Free Society,” which included participation of Chief Judge Rodney Sippel, a newspaper reporter, and a law professor.
The JLC is also of interest to older learners, including teachers. Marshall is responsible for the JLC’s programs for K–12 teachers, including model lesson plans and mock trial materials. Last year, the JLC website had more than 1 million views and more than 9,000 downloads of educational materials for teachers. The JLC underwrites the Street Law teacher institute, as well as summer teacher institutes in St. Louis and Cape Girardeau, Missouri. In addition to coordinating these efforts, Marshall engages the judges in the Eastern District of Missouri in programs that are held in the courthouse. Nearly every program includes the participation of at least one federal judge.
The JLC has also sponsored special exhibits on a wide range of topics, including the Dred Scott case; Alexander Hamilton, the lawyer; and the Freedom Riders. In addition to the exhibits and interactive activities in the JLC, there is a video oral history section. Senior District Judge E. Richard Webber has been instrumental in conducting interviews and gathering information about the district’s former judges and many of the district’s significant cases.
The Future of the Judicial Learning Center
The Judicial Learning Center is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and its role has never been more important. There is a need to educate students, teachers, and the community at large about the rule of law and the importance of the independent administration of justice. The future includes plans to hold a 10th anniversary celebration in October, as well as to gather high school students at the courthouse in November for a student forum on the First Amendment. Planning has already begun for a series of events in 2020 recognizing the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment. Also being considered are updates to the interactive and historical artifact displays in the JLC and in other locations in the courthouse.
In addition to continuing the excellent programming for young and old alike, the JLC can be experienced from the comfort of home. The JLC has a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and an educational and informative website at https://judiciallearningcenter.org. Anyone can register for the education and outreach newsletter at https://www.moed.uscourts.gov/education-and-outreach-news.