September 12, 2011

Justice O’Connor discussed her groundbreaking work to advance civics education in Florida across several platforms, including a successful venture developing cutting-edge, digital civics games for young students. She was joined by former Florida governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham and immediate past-president of the ABA Stephen Zack. The event was held at the University Auditorium. This program was co-sponsored by the Bob Graham Center for Public Service and ACCENT.

In 2006, Graham and former Congressman Lou Frey, launched a pioneering effort to improve civics education in Florida. O’Connor joined their effort and in 2010, the Justice Sandra Day O'Connor Civics Education Act was passed into law. This piece of legislation requires that beginning in 2012-13 Florida middle school students must take one semester of civics. The new law also requires civics-related content be taught in the language arts curriculum of all grade levels beginning with the 2011-12 school year.

As part of these efforts, O’Connor has been a key promoter of iCivics, a web-based project that uses game play to teach middle school students about civic engagement. The online games, which can be accessed at, are built around issues like the national budget and explore how the three branches of government function in a democracy. O’Connor became involved with the iCivics project because of her concern that civics education was faltering due to poor materials and support in many classrooms across the nation.

“We got public schools in this country to begin with because of the concern about the need to teach young people how to be good citizens,” O’Connor told PBS last year. “In recent years, the schools have stopped teaching [civics] and it’s unfortunate. Half the states no longer make it a requirement to get out of high school, if you can believe it. It’s really a remarkable withdrawal from the very purpose we had originally for public schools.”

Sandra Day O’Connor had served in a variety of legal, legislative and executive posts in Europe, California and Arizona before President Ronald Reagan nominated her to the Supreme Court. She took her seat Sept. 25, 1981. She retired from the Supreme Court on Jan. 31, 2006.

In the headlines

ABA to Honor Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, William H. Neukom for Justice System Advocacy

New York Times: Failing Grades on Civics Exam Called a Crisis

The Daily Beast: iCivics--Sandra Day O’Connor and Arne Duncan on Civics Education Online

Newsweek:O’Connor’s Videogame Revolution

Supremely confident: the legacy of Sandra Day O’Connor

Speaker One
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

Sandra Day O’Connor (Retired), Associate Justice, was born in El Paso, Texas, March 26, 1930. She married John Jay O’Connor III in 1952 and has three sons - Scott, Brian, and Jay. She received her B.A. and LL.B. from Stanford University. She served as Deputy County Attorney of San Mateo County, California from 1952–1953 and as a civilian attorney for Quartermaster Market Center, Frankfurt, Germany from 1954–1957. From 1958–1960, she practiced law in Maryvale, Arizona, and served as Assistant Attorney General of Arizona from 1965–1969. She was appointed to the Arizona State Senate in1969 and was subsequently reelected to two two-year terms. In 1975 she was elected Judge of the Maricopa County Superior Court and served until 1979, when she was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals. President Reagan nominated her as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and she took her seat September 25, 1981. Justice O’Connor retired from the Supreme Court on January 31, 2006.

Speaker Two
Stephen Zack
Miami lawyer Stephen N. Zack is a partner in the national law firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP. He served August 2010–August 2011 as American Bar Association president, and was the first Hispanic American to achieve that distinction. Among his varied accomplishments, Zack was the first Hispanic-American and youngest president of the Florida Bar, and one of the first members of the Cuban-American Bar Association. The Hispanic National Bar Association named him 2010 Latino Lawyer of the Year.
Speaker Three
Bob Graham

Bob Graham is one of the most accomplished politicians in Florida's history, Bob Graham never lost an election for office in more than four decades of public service at the local, state and national level. As first a state legislator, then governor and finally a three-term U.S. Senator, Graham has had a role in nearly every major public policy issue in modern Florida's history. He created the Bob Graham Center for Public Service to continue his legacy of leadership and train the next generation of Sunshine State leaders