Updated: Jan 6, 2022
On December 16, 2021, students from San Diego County Unified School District’s ALBA high school participated in the Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions Program. The Program is part of a national initiative of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and the Federal Bar Association to bring high school students into federal courtrooms to observe, learn, and practice the civil discourse and decision-making skills that are needed in the law and in life.
Upon arrival at the U.S. Courthouse, the ALBA students first met with U.S. Magistrate Judge Barbara L. Major, who talked to the students about her background and her path to becoming a federal judge. After the students observed Judge Major’s court calendars, the students then participated in the Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions Program with Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel and several FBA-San Diego Chapter attorneys.
Before beginning the program, Judge Curiel talked with the students about his background and experiences and why he became a federal judge. The students also spent time discussing with Judge Curiel what it means to engage in civil discourse about a difficult topic, and ground rules to make such conversations productive. The students were given a fact pattern based upon the Supreme Court’s decision in Elonis v. United States, which addressed the circumstances under which threatening statements on social media can form the basis of a federal offense. The students were then given an opportunity to present arguments, and respond to questions from Judge Curiel, regarding the importance of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, and the balance that freedom with the safety and security of society.
This is the first time the Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions Program has been presented by the FBA-San Diego Chapter, and we hope to partner with the district court to offer this Program to additional students in 2022. The FBA-San Diego Chapter gives special thanks to Judge Curiel, Magistrate Judge Major, Justin Martin, Jenn French, Rebecca Church, and Janet Cabral for their participation in this program.