The Power of Democracy Steering Committee

Formed: July 2013
Charge: to implement the Chief Justice's civic education initiatives 
Chair: Hon. Judith D. McConnell, Administrative Presiding Justice, Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District


The formation of the Power of Democracy Steering Committee by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye consolidates two committees—the Leadership Group on Civic Education and Public Outreach (an implementation committee for the Commission for Impartial Courts) and the Civic Learning Summit Steering Committee.

The committee will guide and support related initiatives spearheaded by the Chief Justice, including the Civic Learning Awards for California Public Schools and the K–12 Civic Learning Task Force.

The committee will also develop and implement short- and long-term strategic plans that build on the momentum and partnerships created by the summit, including, but not limited to a communications plan and a clarification of partner roles and responsibilities. The steering committee reports to the Chief Justice.

The Chief Justice appoints members of the steering committee for two-year terms.

The Judicial Council Operations and Programs Division staffs this steering committee.

The Chief Justice serves as the honorary chair and appoints a chair of the steering committee and members of the steering committee represented as follows:

Justice of the Court of Appeals involved in civics education and public information Hon. Judith D. McConnell, Chair
Administrative Presiding Justice, Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District

Judicial officer of the superior court involved in civics education and public information

Hon. Charles A. Smiley III
Presiding Judge of the Juvenile Court
Superior Court of California, County of Alameda

Federal court representative Hon. Frank C. Damrell, Jr. (Ret.)
State Supreme Court representative

Ms. Alice V. Collins
Supervising Supreme Court Attorney
Supreme Court of California

California Secretary of State or their representative Hon. Alex Padilla
California Secretary of State

State Superintendent of Public Instruction representative

Mr. Jason Spencer  
Principal Advisor to the Superintendent of Public Instruction
California Department of Education

California Bar Foundation representative Ms. Sonia Gonzales
Executive Director
California Bar Foundation
 Law school representative Dr. Stephen C. Ferruolo
Dean and Professor of Law
University of San Diego, School of Law

County Superintendent of Schools/representative of the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association (CCSESA)

Mr. David W. Gordon
Superintendent of Schools
Sacramento County Office of Education

Civic education leader Dr. Michelle M. Herczog
Consultant, History-Social Science
Los Angeles County Office of Education
Student Representative

Ms. Laura Robles
George Washington Carver High School

The Civic Learning Award for California public high schools, co-sponsored by California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, spotlights successful efforts to engage students in civic learning and identify models that can be replicated in other schools.

The awards are presented to California schools based on the depth and breadth of their civic learning courses or programs.

In its first year, 2013, an expert panel of judges carefully selected 22 schools for the award's inaugural presentation at the Civics Learning Summit. Three schools earned the Award of Excellence, the highest honor, and received a visit from Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye:

Five schools received Awards of Distinction, and fourteen schools received Awards of Merit. 

All recipients are presented the award at their school location by a member of the California bench. A list of all recipients is available here.

Funding for the Civic Learning Award program is generously provided by the California Bar Foundation. 

The California Task Force on K-12 Civic Learning was appointed by Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, and is overseen by the Power of Democracy Steering Committee. 

The purpose of the Task Force is to bring definition to the skills, knowledge, and dispositions our students need to be informed and engaged citizens and community members. The Task Force will make recommendations for how we can achieve these outcomes for all students in California and will focus their recommendations in the following areas:

• curriculum and instructional practice
• resources
• professional learning for teachers and staff
• student testing
• school accountability and
• partnerships with the community and business

The task force will make recommendations to:

• Chief Justice of California
• State Superintendent of Public Instruction
• State Board of Education
• Chair of the Assembly Education Committee
• Chair of the Senate Education Committee
Task Force Timeline: July 2012—Summer 2014

More details about work of this task force is available on the State of California Dept of Education websiteFunding for the California Task Force on K-12 Civic Learning is generously provided by the California Bar Foundation.
The Power of Democracy Steering Committee will implement specific education-related recommendations accepted by the Judicial Council in 2011 presented by the Commission for Impartial Courts.

Commission for Impartial Courts
This body was formed in Sept 2007 by Chief Justice Ron George and was charged with researching issues around impartiality and the courts. The commission was chaired by California Supreme Court Justice Ming W. Chin. From 2007 to 2009, the commission met in private meetings and held public forums, created task forces concentrated on issues around impartiality, and formalized 71 recommendations that were accepted by the Judicial Council in 2009.

Implementation of CIC Recommendations
The CIC sunsetted after its final report was presented. This update on implementation activities was presented in Dec 2012.

The Power of Democracy Steering Committee will focus on the implementation of the following recommendation:

37. To improve transparency and better inform the public of the role and operations of the state court system and to enhance public outreach, the judicial branch should identify and disseminate essential information that would increase both the public’s access to justice and its opportunities for input. To that end, the following are recommended:

(a) A leadership advisory group should be appointed to oversee, identify, and coordinatepublic outreach programs and opportunities for public input; to establish benchmarks of good practice; and to promote the assembly of local teams to assist courts with local outreach programs; and

(b) The Judicial Council should collect, summarize, and evaluate public outreach resources and methods for public input that are currently available for judges and court administrators and should also collect, summarize, aevaluate educational materials for K–12 teachers and for judges and court administrators making classroom

43. Every child in the state should receive a quality civics education, and judges, courts, teachers, and school administrators should be supported in their efforts to educate students about the judiciary and its function in a democratic society. To that end, the following are specifically recommended:

(a) Strategies for meaningful changes to civics education in California should be supported, and a strategic plan for judicial branch support for civics education should be developed;
(b) Political support should be sought from leaders in the Legislature, the State Bar, the law enforcement community, and other interested entities to improve civics education;
(c) Teacher training programs, curriculum development, and education programs on civics should all be expanded to include the courts; and
(g) Recognition programs that bring attention to teachers, judges, and court administrators who advance civics education should be promoted.

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