Inside Law Admissions: Civics 603


Thursday, July 16, 2020

Cake with sign reading "The First Amendment: A Piece of Cake?"

UNH Franklin Pierce 3L Michael Fazi worked with local students in Civics 603, a program designed for middle to high-school students to learn about the Bill of Rights, the three branches of government, and civil discourse. He joins the show with Civics 603 Director Dina Michael Chaitowitz to discuss the program and their work this past year creating a workbook centered around the Masterpiece Cakeshop US Supreme Court case. Produced and Hosted by A. J. Kierstead

Learn more about this fascinating program at https://www.nhcivics.org/civics-603. Students and professors who want to volunteer can contact Dina directly at dmichaelchaitowitz@gmail.com

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Read the Transcript

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

This past school year, UNH Franklin Pierce 3L Michael Fazi worked with local students in Civics 603, a program designed for middle to high school students to learn more about the Bill of Rights, the three branches of government and civil discourse. He joins me with Civic 603 director Dina Chaitowitz to discuss the program and their work this past year creating workbooks centered around the Masterpiece Cakeshop US Supreme Court case. This is Inside Law Admissions, a special series of the podcast The Legal Impact, presented by UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law, now accepting applications for JD graduate programs and online professional certificates. Learn more and apply at law.unh.edu. So Dina, what is the mission of Civic 603, and how did it get started?

Dina Michael Chaitowitz:

I'd say that our mission is twofold. First, in working with the students on presenting [inaudible 00:00:57] arguments in Supreme Court cases, the program provides the students with basic information, for example, about the structure of the Constitution and the operation of certain rights in the Bill of Rights, and the difference between trials and appeals. And of course, the students also learn about the facts and the issues of the particular case that they're working on.

Dina Michael Chaitowitz:

Just as importantly, I think, is that the program teaches students that importance of thinking about controversial or difficult issues from different perspectives, the need to think critically about the strengths and weaknesses and the wisdom of their own positions, the need to listen carefully about the opposing side's concerns, the importance of rethinking their initial assessments of an issue, and sometimes the need to compromise and even to change their view. As part of the process, the students learn about the challenges inherent in implementing the Bill of Rights and the balancing of interests that's often required in deciding legal issues. It's the second set of processes that the students go through that I think is most significant and important about Civic 603.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

What age range are the students that participate?

Dina Michael Chaitowitz:

Two of the cases that we work with, TLO and Tinker... TLO is a Fourth Amendment case. Tinker is a First Amendment case, and they're both landmark cases. Those are appropriate for 6th through 12th grade, and we modify the program based on the age group. The problem that Michael and I created, Masterpiece Cake, is really only appropriate for upper level advanced students. And you asked me how the program got started. I was involved in a civics education program in Massachusetts called Discovering Justice, and I wanted to do something similar in New Hampshire when I retired. And with the help of the New Hampshire Institute for Civics Education and the New Hampshire Supreme Court, we were able to develop this program, Civic 603. So I have those two organizations to thank.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

So, Michael, what motivated you to want to work with this group?

Michael Fazi:

I've always been interested in both education and its intersection with the law. And so coming to law school, I was looking for a way to maybe get involved in that hands-on. And this project with Attorney Chaitowitz has allowed me to share my legal knowledge with the broader New Hampshire community in a more down-to-earth way. And I think that to get outside of the law school and work with a local organization made me feel like a part of the community up here in New Hampshire, and UNH Law itself is also helping give back to the community. And at UNH we've been taught the importance of giving back through pro bono work and local outreach as attorneys, but as a student, I felt like this project was really a good way to give back and put what I've learned so far into practice. And so creating this workbook for student use, I thought, was a really impactful way to do that.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

What specific work did you do in this program?

Michael Fazi:

So through collaboration with professor Leah Plunkett and Attorney Chaitowitz, we were to develop a new workbook based on Masterpiece Cakeshop, and it was going to be designed for high school students who had potentially already done the previous workbooks that Attorney Chaitowitz mentioned, Tinker and TLO. And so I had the opportunity in the spring of 2020 to work start-to-finish on this workbook. So it began by brainstorming and selecting a case that would be relevant to students and also general populations today, and that's how we came to choose Masterpiece. And then we from there went on to research the relevant legal precedent leading up to Masterpiece. We outlined the arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop, and then we moved to the most difficult task, it turned out, of creating a workbook that would make sense of all of this legalese to students.

Michael Fazi:

And so we spent a large portion of the semester taking all of the research and putting it into a really usable workbook, and also creating a volunteer guide based on the workbook to allow volunteer attorneys such as Attorney Chaitowitz to lead the student groups and help guide their discussions after they went through the facts of Masterpiece Cakeshop. And to round out the project, as I was involved, we were able to do a focus group with a local group of high school students. And that really wrapped up my experience well, and put my work in a classroom for an evening and was really satisfying to be able to do.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

Now, Dina, I'm just really interested by the fact you thought it was important to have controversial cases in some way via the subject matter. Masterpiece Cake certainly suits that bill. It's a fascinating civil rights case that basically is still floating around to a certain extent. So why do you feel like that's important?

Dina Michael Chaitowitz:

You need to have a case that has two sides that can be debated in a fulsome way. You can't have a case that's a no-brainer so that one side has a really good argument and one side has virtually no argument at all. The case has to involve an issue that is controversial, that has split the lower courts, and obviously it's made its way to the Supreme court. In Masterpiece Cake, the Supreme Court dodged the main substantive issue, whether a state's public accommodations law can compel a cake designer to design and make a cake for a gay couple when the designer says doing so violates his rights under the free exercise of free speech clauses of the Constitution. But we still thought that that would be a lesson as well, that the students would not only be able to debate the substantive issue, but learn about how sometimes courts dodge the issue before them.

Dina Michael Chaitowitz:

And we completely lucked out, or maybe we were just correct and thinking that this was a good and hot issue because the Supreme Court has before it now a case that raises a similar issue, Fulton versus the City of Philadelphia. Briefing will be completed in August. So if schools choose to do this problem in the fall or the spring, we may be waiting for a decision from the Supreme Court. So the students in our focus group really enjoyed the problem. And it was very exciting, wasn't it, Michael?

Michael Fazi:

Oh, I think so. Yes.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

Michael, how do you feel like working with the kids has enriched your experience as a law student?

Michael Fazi:

So I found that the process of boiling down or making sense of the legal issues and reasoning used in the cases so that it can be understood and engaged with by high school students while they're doing the program was a lot tougher than I first thought it was going to be. And as law students, we need to practice this process of learning how to communicate complex topics to clients. And so I appreciated the opportunity to practice this really practical skill through a community outreach project while at UNH Law. And the end result, as we've said, of seeing the students interact with the materials we created, was satisfying and a really fulfilling experience to be able to do well in law school.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

Dina, how do you feel like it helped the program by having an active law student as part of the organization and working with the students?

Dina Michael Chaitowitz:

Having Michael and UNH work on this was really a blessing. I had wanted to create a new problem for upper level students. As Michael said, many of them had been exposed to Tinker or TLO in one fashion or another, and having him work with me on choosing the problem and getting the materials drafted meant that it actually got done. And he did a fabulous job on the materials that we needed to create, and it was fun to work with him. So it was a great experience from my perspective.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

What do you see as the future for Civic 603?

Dina Michael Chaitowitz:

Well, we're going to continue the program in person or virtually in the fall. The justices are open to conducting the program via Zoom. So I should say that when the students work through these workbooks to develop their arguments, and they have the assistance of volunteers from the courthouse or volunteer lawyers. And then they actually present their arguments in the Supreme Court building before three lawyers and then a justice comes out at the end of the program and interacts with them. In the past, now-retired Chief Justice Robert Lynn actually sometimes presided as a judge as well. So the justices are open to continuing the program and participating as they have in the past via Zoom. So we're going forward and we'll be doing TLO and Tinker and Masterpiece Cake, and I'm looking forward to doing it however we have to do it.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

Michael, anything else you want to add?

Michael Fazi:

I just wanted to thank Attorney Chaitowitz and Professor Plunkett for the opportunity and the dedication throughout the entire semester to really work hands-on with a law student and make sure this project got done. And I definitely am happy to see that it's going to be used now for many school years to come hopefully.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

Thanks. Perfect guys. Thank you so much.

Dina Michael Chaitowitz:

Thank you for inviting us. And should I say that people are interested if students are interested in being volunteers in the program going forward, they can contact the Civics 603 by getting on our website, nhcivics.org, or they can email me at dmichaelchaitowitz@gmail.com. We would love to have students and professors work with us.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

Thanks for listening to Inside Law Admissions, presented by UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law. Learn more about the Civics 603 program by visiting nhcivics.org/civics-603, which is linked in the episode description. Learn more about UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law and apply by visiting law.unh.edu. Subscribe to The Legal Impact on your favorite podcast platform, including Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Spotify