The Sonoma County Gazette: Community News Magazine
Sonoma County Gazette
| more

Photo Gallery

An Annual Connection Tackles Equal Protection


An Annual Connection Tackles Equal Protection

By Suzanne K. Babb

“Does anyone know what day today is?”  Judge Patrick Broderick asked the classroom of juniors and seniors at Piner High School.  They did.  “Equal Pay Day” they chimed.  

“Excellent!” The Judge exclaimed.  “Do you know what that means?”  They did.  They knew it was the date symbolic of the amount of time it takes a woman’s pay for the same work to catch up with a man’s pay from the prior year.  It took until April 12th for that to happen this year.  The students did not seem to like that.  The female students, especially, shook their heads disapprovingly, even angrily.

The questions got more difficult after that, the issues more tangled.  For an hour, Judge Broderick and attorney Deborah Reece tackled thorny questions of individual rights, Judge Broderick pulling out his dog-eared pocket Constitution every so often, energetically waving it in the air, reading from passages.  

The annual Law Week program is a partnership between the Sonoma County Bar Association and the Sonoma County Office of Education.  Now in its 16th year, the Law Week program actually spans a two-week period every Spring.  Judges and lawyers visit Sonoma County classrooms from Petaluma to Cloverdale, from Sonoma to Sebastopol.

Every year, the theme of Law Week is different, but the focus is always rooted in the Constitution, in the fundamental legal principles around which we have organized our government and our communities. In past years, for example, the Law Week program has explored the interplay between the First Amendment and bullying; or how the Fourth Amendment informs a student’s right to privacy in their lockers, backpacks, cell-phones.

Inspired by a year of active and even contentious debate in the public forum, this year’s Law Week program took a step back to look at a broader Constitutional promise, that of equality under the law. The continuing efforts to realize that Constitutional promise, from the Black Lives Matter movement, to the Supreme Court's marriage equality decision, to the ongoing disparity in pay between genders, led to lively discussions and difficult questions. 

This year, over 80 Judges and attorneys from both the public and private sector visited local classrooms, in two-person teams. Students learned about the historical evolution of equal protection laws in this country, and the tests used by Courts when deciding such issues.  Some students were then asked to engage in debates based on a certain set of facts; students in other classrooms went about the task of a legislator, drafting statutes to conform with their notions of equality; still other students were given the role of an appellate court Justice who must decide whether a certain law unduly discriminates against a class of citizens, in violation of their right to equal protection under the Constitution.  

The Law Week program is also an opportunity for high school students, mostly juniors and seniors, to talk to practicing attorneys and Judges about the legal profession and to ask questions.

“It is such a pleasure and privilege to be part of this dynamic collaboration,” said Rebecca Gallagher of the Sonoma County Office of Education. “I know it requires much of our legal professionals, but they always make time in their busy schedules for Law Week.”  She adds, “Of course, from what I see, it is quite possible they get as much out of it as the students.  It is inspiring to see the energy and engagement on both sides.” 


**Suzanne K. Babb is a litigation partner with the law firm of Beyers Costin Simon.  Suzanne is on the Executive Committee of the Sonoma County Bar Association, and is Chair of the Law Week Committee.