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The Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project

Background

Named after the late Justices Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan, supported by their families, and powered by the conviction that the Constitution belongs to everyone, the Marshall-Brennan project has achieved striking success in spreading constitutional understanding, public responsibility, critical thinking and written and oral advocacy skills among thousands of high school students, many of whom have gone on to college and law school because of their transformative experience in the project.

The project was started by Professor Jamin Raskin, from the Washington College of Law of the American University in Washington, D.C. in 1999. Professor Gwen Roseman Stern of the Drexel University School of Law launched the program in Philadelphia in 2005. She started with University of Pennsylvania law students and expanded the project to include Drexel Law students. Together, there are currently over 60 law students who teach over approximately 1,500 high school students in Philadelphia public high schools. The law students share their passion for constitutional law and impart that knowledge to the excitement of the high school students.

Curriculum

The program focuses on a semester-long course about the Constitution and public schools, to which students at urban high schools have responded with tremendous interest and enthusiasm. The interactive “We the Students” curriculum immerses high school students in the Supreme Court cases governing everything that defines the school experience in America: student expression in newspapers, yearbooks and classrooms; religious freedom, prayer at football games and the Ten Commandments on the wall; segregation, desegregation and affirmative action; locker searches and drug testing of student athletes; Title IX efforts to support opportunities for girls in athletics, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, among others.

Competition

The project culminates in a Constitutional Law Moot Court Competition where two students from each classroom are chosen to argue as the “Petitioner” and the other as the “Respondent” in a mock United States Supreme Court case. In Philadelphia, the local competition includes about 60 high school student advocates who argue the case in front of sitting judges and lawyers of the distinguished Philadelphia legal community. The top eight advocates from the local competition advance to compete in the National Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Competition.