December 9, 2020
2020 has been a difficult year for many due to the pandemic. As everyone adapts it is important to remember Chief Justice John Roberts' call for courts across the country to revive courts as vibrant and vital centers of a civically engaged community. Responding to the Chief Justice’s call may ultimately require a return to designing and using courthouse facilities to serve not just the judicial needs of the community but other needs such as public plazas, daycare and fitness centers, and public meeting spaces to bring the community back to the community court. While redesigning courthouses may be one way to reconnect the public to them, design is not the only way.
In the forward to the 1995 book Virginia’s Historic Courthouses, former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Lewis F. Powell Jr. stated “For much of our history, the courthouse has served not just as a local center of the law and government but as a meeting ground, cultural hub, and social gathering place.” A decade later Justice Stephen G. Breyer expressed similar sentiment. Courthouses traditionally were found in the center of a town; inside one found public notices, public records, and trials, where passersby sometimes watched the law in action; outside the public picnicked, celebrated the Fourth of July, set off fireworks in surrounding parks. Historically, courthouses were not office buildings.”
Both of the aforementioned Justices recalled the days of courthouses as centers for celebration for major events. Across the country, state courthouses are continuing this tradition. These courts are creating ways to bring their community together even when circumstances prevent the community from physically being together.
Since the 1930’s the Midland County Courthouse in Midland, Michigan has been decorating the courthouse for the holidays. The tradition has evolved and changed over the years but now includes Santa making his way to help light the courthouse and start the holiday season.
Image Source: Midland Daily News
Saline County, Arkansas Courthouse has a large display each year. Santa provides pictures, cookies, cocoa, and goodies free to all children, as well as a beautiful light display to light up the nights.
Image source: Saline County Facebook
Image source: SalineCounty.org
In Guernsey County, Ohio the 1881 courthouse is turned into a holiday spectacular with 65,000 lights, three-twenty-foot Christmas trees, and 60 animated displays.
These are just a few of the state courts with special events for their community.
For more on courthouse facilities planning visit the NCSC’s Court Facility Planning Team’s home on the web or contact the planning team. For tips on using civics education to connect with your community please read Civics education in America at the turn of a new decade.
How has your court worked to improve community outreach during this holiday season? Follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest and share your experiences.
For Information this and other topics impacting state courts, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164.