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S.C. Chief Justice Receives Award for Civics-Education Work

Chief Justice of South Carolina Jean Hoefer Toal was presented the National Center for State Courts' (NCSC) Sandra Day O'Connor Award for the Advancement of Civics Education by the award's namesake during a ceremony last week.

Photo of Chief Justice ToalRetired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said she was honored to have the award named for her and proud to bestow the first award to Chief Justice Toal. The award was presented during the National Association for Court Management's (NACM) Annual Conference in Las Vegas, Nev., at which Chief Justice Toal presented a keynote address about the vital role courts can play in providing civics education.

NCSC, which provides association management services to NACM, established the award in 2010 to honor an organization, court, or individual who has promoted, inspired, improved, or led an innovation or accomplishment in the field of civics education. The award is named after Justice O'Connor, who has made improving civics education one of her priorities since retiring from the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006.

"The business and decisions that take place in our state courts affect the daily lives of all our citizens. Yet, few people understand how our justice system works," said NCSC President Mary C. McQueen. "Chief Justice Toal recognized this need and is taking great strides to improve students' understanding of our courts."

Chief Justice Toal has made significant progress in bringing civics education to South Carolina students. She was instrumental in making South Carolina one of the first pilot states for iCivics, Justice O'Connor's Web-based interactive civics-education program aimed at middle-school students. Chief Justice Toal also encouraged and supported the use of "Justice Case Files," a graphic-novel series developed by NCSC that teaches students how the courts work. She was instrumental in encouraging two South Carolina law firms — Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough and Gallivan White & Boyd — to contribute the necessary funds to get the graphic novels into more than 65 schools in the state.

Under Chief Justice Toal's leadership, the South Carolina Judiciary has a long history of supporting civics education. In addition to iCivics and the "Justice Case Files" series, South Carolina has implemented three state civics programs:

  • The Class Action Program, which brings middle- and high-school students to the state Supreme Court to hear oral arguments

  • The Case of the Month Program, which provides streaming video of a case argued before the state Supreme Court, allowing students the opportunity to review the briefs submitted for the case and watch the proceedings

  • South Carolina Supreme Court Institute, which helps middle- and high-school social-studies teachers learn how to bring law to life for their students

Additional information about South Carolina's civics programs is available on the South Carolina Judicial Department's website
In addition to Chief Justice Toal, the following individuals and organizations contributed to making the South Carolina iCivics program a success: Dr. Jane Brailsford, coordinator of Virtual Schools and Professional Development, Lexington County School District; Catherine Templeton, iCivics national coordinator; Molly H. Craig, iCivics national coordinator; the South Carolina Defense Trial Attorneys' Association; and the South Carolina Bar. 

Chief Justice Toal was the first woman appointed to South Carolina's Supreme Court and became the state's first female chief justice in 2000. Prior to joining the bench, she served in the South Carolina House of Representatives from 1975-88 and worked in private practice for Belser, Baker, Ravenel, Toal & Bender. She served as president of the Conference of Chief Justices and chair of NCSC's Board of Directors in 2007-08.

The National Center for State Courts, headquartered in Williamsburg, Va., is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the administration of justice by providing leadership and service to the state courts. Founded in 1971 by the Conference of Chief Justices and Chief Justice of the United States Warren E. Burger, NCSC provides education, training, technology, management, and research services to the nation's state courts.