Justice Sonia Sotomayor Joins the Board of Civics Education Group

By Mark Walsh — December 02, 2015 2 min read
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Serving on the U.S. Supreme Court makes one a member of a pretty exclusive club, and it isn’t often that the justices join the boards of other prominent organizations.

But Justice Sonia Sotomayor has done just that—joining the board of iCivics, the educational organization founded in 2009 by retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

The organization offers digital games and lesson plans for students and teachers to advance civics education. O’Connor, who left the Supreme Court in 2006, launched the effort out of concerns for U.S. students’ poor understanding of courts and other government functions, and she has worked tirelessly to promote it.

Sotomayor, who joined the high court in 2009, will be part of a 10-member governing board for iCivics, to help guide the development of its educational content and serve as an ambassador for the organization.

“My colleague Sandra Day O’Connor founded this organization. I am delighted to support her great work,” Sotomayor said in a statement released by iCivics. “Civic education has been very important to me in my life. Our society is bound by a set of founding documents reflecting our most important values and principles. I cannot think of more important work than making these concepts relevant to today’s students and ensuring that our democracy remains vibrant.”

Louise Dubé, the executive director of Washington-based iCivics, said in an interview that Sotomayor contacted her after an April event in which O’Connor was honored for her work on civics education by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sotomayor.

Dubé said Sotomayor was “unusually committed to education, to civics, and to using her station in life to bring the message to communities she relates to, especially Latino communities, that law relates to you.”

Asked what role she saw Sotomayor taking, Dubé said, “She is primarily going to be a fantastic spokeswoman for iCivics. She is a rock star with students, and we think she will help reach students directly.”

Dubé said Sotomayor did not express any qualms about serving as a board member of an educational organization.

Under the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, Sotomayor’s role would appear to be permitted. The ethical canons apply directly to lower federal court judges, not members of the Supreme Court. But the justices generally strive to abide by the canons.

Canon 4 of the code is titled, “A Judge May Engage in Extrajudicial Activities that are Consistent with the Obligations of Judicial Office.”

” A judge may participate in and serve as an officer, director, trustee, or nonlegal advisor of a nonprofit civic, charitable, educational, religious, or social organization,” the code says, subject to limitations that include not serving if the organization would likely come before the judge or regularly engaged in adversary proceedings in any court.

Meanwhile, iCivics, which has more than 100,000 registered teachers and whose games are played by 3 million students each year, also released a statement from its founder about Sotomayor’s decision to join the board.

“When I started iCivics six years ago, it was my hope that my colleagues would join me in inspiring future generations to learn how our legal system works,” Justice O’Connor said in the statement. “We need to teach them better if they are to pick up the mantle from us when it’s time to pass down responsibility for this country. Nothing pleases me more than welcoming aboard my esteemed colleague.”

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.