Director's Note

Vol 12 Fall 2011


Director, ABA Division for Public Education

Americans have long looked to courts as guardians of our fundamental liberties, protectors of the rights of individuals and political minorities, and arbiters of the Constitution and laws of the land. Courts today, however, face many challenges, including funding cutbacks that threaten their ability to function as such a ‘guardian.’ This issue of Insights explores the role that courts play as the third branch of American government.

Our issue opens with a brief history of the federal judiciary. Bruce Ragsdale outlines how the Constitution established the court system, and how it has evolved over time into what we know today. We have included a time line of the “Development of the American Judiciary” for use with your students. Jane Pribek Salem then looks at the growing use of problem-solving courts in states to address specific cases and circumstances. Kimberlianne Podlas explores how popular culture, particularly television, influences our perceptions of real-life courts. In our Perspectives feature, we ask diverse experts to answer the question, “Do courts have adequate resources to face today’s challenges?” Throughout the issue, be sure to look for Learning Gateways, not as a stand-alone feature as in past issues, but a recurring sidebar tailored to each article. Finally, do not miss the full-page preview of the rich roundup of resources online at, which offers teachers additional instructional supports, including articles, lessons, and primary sources, and opportunities for continued discussion.

We hope that this issue helps you address historical and contemporary topics regarding the American justice system. Let us hear from you. We would like your feedback, including ideas about how you might incorporate this issue into your classroom. And let us know if there are topics that you would like to see us tackle in these pages.

As always, enjoy the issue, and best wishes,


Mabel McKinney-Browning
Director, ABA Division for Public Education



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  • Perspectives