Friday, September 21, 2012

More Help for Civics Teachers

Once again, I would like to highlight a new link Constitution Classroom that has become available for teachers who plan social studies classes at the middle and high school levels. The Ohio State Bar Foundation has created a number of tools to help teachers plan programs around the constitution.

The 2010 Fellows class, all practicing members of the Ohio bar, prepared PowerPoint segments on a variety of constitutional topics.

The topics include:

• Free Speech, Religion, Press, Assembly, Petition We’re Number One! Search and Seizure A Reasonable Test

• Due Process Respecting Our Rights

• Three Branches of Government A Constitutional Blueprint

Each topic also has case materials for mock trials and other information to help with several lesson plans.

Constitution Classroom can be found here:

The attorneys who prepared this site hope that it will help promote classroom conversations. Let them know if their work was useful.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What Cases Are Heard by the Supreme Court?

You may be surprised to learn that not every case appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court is accepted for review. Our jurisdiction, meaning the scope of our work, is defined in the Ohio Constitution. The constitution provides that we are to decide cases with constitutional questions, death penalty cases and those from administrative agencies such as the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. But that is just a small portion of the 2,000 cases that are filed in the court every year.

Most of our work comes through “discretionary review” of court of appeals’ cases. This is another way of saying that we ourselves choose the cases that we will hear and decide. We call these “jurisdictional” cases, and at least four of the seven justices must vote to accept a case before it is accepted. Otherwise, we decline jurisdiction and the case stays settled as it was by the court of appeals.

How do we decide whether a case should be heard?

The constitution tells us that discretionary appeals should involve felonies or questions of “public or great general interest.” Before voting on the jurisdictional cases, each justice reads and considers the legal arguments prepared by the attorneys pro and con on whether the case has public or great general interest.

Of course each case is the most important case to the parties involved, but it might not have great general interest because the facts are so limited. Many times the rule of law has already been settled and the court does not need to repeat what has been declared already. On the other hand, if the legislature has enacted a new law that seems to be unclear, or if the 12 courts of appeals are ruling differently in the same type of cases, or if a new situation appears that seems to be unprecedented, we may find that four justices vote to take in that case and review it further .

How easy is it for a discretionary appeal to open the Supreme Court’s door? Our statistics show that we have accepted only about 7 percent of the cases seeking review.