Civics in Washington

We live in a constitutional democracy.  Respect for the rule of law is essential to a safe, orderly and peaceful society. As citizens we tend to be aware of our rights, but we need to be conscious of key concepts like separation of powers and the checks and balances between the three branches of government.  We need to appreciate the significance of judicial independence, the presumption of innocence and the right to an attorney in criminal matters.  We also need to be conscious of our responsibilities as citizens, and take those responsibilities seriously.  This section is explores rights and responsibilities, key civics concepts, civics education, and opportunities to be involved with civics organizations.


Providing Meaningful Opportunities for Students to Become Active, Informed, and Engaged

The Council on Public Legal Education, part of, has launched an ambitious Civic Learning Initiative (CLI) to bolster civic learning for Washington State students.

High quality civic learning is the most important factor in determining whether students will actively participate in their communities as adults. A democracy thrives when its citizens vote, show up for jury duty, engage in public life, join neighborhood groups, are aware of current civic issues, identify and listen to viewpoints other than their own, attend local government meetings, or voice their concerns to lawmakers.

Success for All Students

The Civic Learning Initiative will specifically address gaps in civic learning and determine how the state can be more effective in providing meaningful civic learning for all our Washington youth. It will focus on the policies, resources, and support necessary for success in K-12 schools and youth development programs.

Initiative Goals

     • Ensure that all Washington youth have access to high quality civics learning both in school and in out-of-school programming — satisfying six proven practices of the Civic Mission of Schools.

     • Foster collaboration between in-school and out-of-school civic learning educators so that opportunities for training, programs, curricula, and professional development are networked and shared.

     • Promote equity by prioritizing civic learning opportunities for underserved youth — especially youth of color, immigrants, and refugees, and youth in rural communities.

     • Establish local civic learning partnerships.

     • Raise public awareness and support for civic learning. Program Elements

     • The Civic Learning Initiative kicked off January 2017 with an initial summit for educators and legislators focusing on identifying civic learning obstacles and solutions to accomplish the goals.

     • A second summit showcasing existing high quality civic learning programs will be held in January 2018.

     • The summits will result in increased collaboration with the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the creation of a public-private partnership. Also, iCivics – Washington, a state-specific version of the national online iCivics curriculum, will be launched.

To learn more about the Civic Learning Initiative contact Margaret Fisher, or 206-501-7963.


     Mary Fairhurst, Chief Justice, Washington Supreme Court

     Ricardo S. Martinez, Chief Judge, United States District Court Western District of Washington

     Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington

     Bob Ferguson, Attorney General

     Kim Wyman, Secretary of State

     Chis Reykdal, Superintendent of Public Instruction

     Ann Murphy, President, League of Women Voters of Washington

     Tony Jonas & Carinna Tarvin, Co-Presidents, Washington State Council for the Social Studies

     David Beard, Policy and Advocacy Director, School's Out Washington

     Renee Radcliff Sinclair, CEO and President, TVW


     Marlin Appelwick, Judge, Court of Appeals, Division I

     Judith Billings, Former Superintendent of Public Instruction


     Margaret Fisher, State Coordinator, Sandra Day O’Connor’s iCivics Program

Civics Education Material

This section provides access to valuable civics education materials in two ways.  The first is through the attachments listed below.  They may be read or downloaded for your use.  The second way is to click on the categories of materials listed below.  Each category will open to links to additional material available to you.

For Kids

For Teachers

Research Resources

iCivics Initiative

iCivics prepares young Americans to become knowledgeable, engaged 21st century citizens by creating free and innovative educational materials.

In 2009, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor founded iCivics to reverse Americans’ declining civic knowledge and participation. Securing our democracy, she realized, requires teaching the next generation to understand and respect our system of governance. Today iCivics comprises not just our board and staff, but also a national leadership team of state supreme court justices, secretaries of state, and educational leaders and a network of committed volunteers. Together, we are committed to passing along our legacy of democracy to the next generation.

In just two years, iCivics has produced 16 educational video games as well as vibrant teaching materials that have been used in classrooms in all 50 states. Today we offer the nation’s most comprehensive, standards-aligned civics curriculum that is available freely on the Web. Find all the educational fun at .

For information about iCivics in Washington, contact Margaret Fisher at .


Coming Events

Council on Public Legal Education

Mission / Vision / Values Statement of Council on Public Legal Education


The mission of the Council on Public Legal Education is to promote public understanding of the law and civic rights and responsibilities. The Council pursues this mission by conducting, coordinating, encouraging and publicizing public legal education efforts in Washington State.


The Council on Public Legal Education envisions a society in which all the people of Washington understand the principles of, and can effectively participate in, our democracy and its justice system.

The Council on Public Legal Education believes that in a democracy:

  • access to justice is fundamental 
  • justice requires that all people, groups and institutions understand their legal rights and responsibilities
  • in order to participate effectively in the democracy, people, groups and institutions need to know basic legal concepts, how the justice system works, and what their options are for exercising their rights and responsibilities
  • learning about the law, democracy and the justice system should continue throughout one's life, not just in school or during times of crisis
  • educating the public about law, democracy and the justice system is a responsibility of legal and governmental institutions and professions, as well as of the public school system
  • access to information about the law, democracy and the justice system should be readily available to all people

In pursuing its mission, the Council on Public Legal Education is dedicated to:

  • insuring access to information about the law to all people
  • building a collaborative community that promotes public legal education for everyone
  • encouraging all individuals to educate themselves about the law.

CPLE Roster and Committees

A membership roster is attached below.

This section is intended for the use of Council Committees as a place to post materials related to their projects.

Essential Knowledge and Skills

This section is intended for use by the committee on Essential Knowledge and Skills for the Community.

Proven Civics Programs

This section is intended for the use of the committee identifying the Proven Programs to Implement Quality Civics.

Teaching Best Practices

This section is intended for the use of the committee identifying current practices and best practices in social studies and particularly civics education.

The Campaign for Civics

This section is intended to host materials from the committee on the Campaign for Civics.

Civics Education Topics

Efforts to promote civics education

Local PLE Councils

Consider creating a local council on public legal education to enhance civics awareness in your community.  It is needed.  It is doable.

The problem

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor appeared on “The Daily Show” to discuss her new civic education website, , with host Jon Stewart:

 O’Connor: Only one-third of Americans can even name the three branches of government, much less say what they do.

 Stewart: That’s not good. I thought you were going to say only one-third can name the Supreme Court justices . . . .  Can they name, let’s say, an American Idol judge?
 O’Connor: Yes, 75 percent can name at least one American Idol judge.
     [nervous laughter]
 Stewart: We’re gonna need more than a website.
 (For the complete interview, see )

The research O’Connor cites here has been replicated in Washington, with similar results. In a statewide public opinion poll conducted in 2006, barely one-half of those surveyed understood what “separation of powers” means and almost one-third didn’t understand the concept of an “independent judiciary.” And these were registered voters!

Being able to name the three branches of government is not a trivial achievement. A healthy democracy requires citizens who understand how and why it functions, or they will not be able to participate in a meaningful way — as jurors, voters, community leaders, and citizen lobbyists. As John Dewey said: “We have taken democracy for granted; we have thought and acted as if our forefathers had founded it once and for all. We have forgotten that it has to be enacted anew in every generation, in every year, in every day.”

Ignorance about the U.S. system of government is largely due to the steady decline of civic education in K–12 schools, which began in the 1960s and has been exacerbated more recently by federal legislation promoting “basic” subjects such as math and writing.

But as Stewart points out, we need more than better school programs. We need the public to learn about civics in all kinds of ways and places: when they turn on the radio in their car, when they stop in the library to pick up the latest potboiler, when they attend a PTA or Rotary meeting, and when they go online looking for advice about how to get out of a traffic ticket.

Where do people learn about our system of government?

Efforts to educate the public about the U.S. system of government are usually aimed at either youth or adults. Following are examples of where youth and adults are exposed to civic education.

 - There are many classroom-based civic education programs for youth at all grade levels. Some programs often last an entire term, such as We the People, Project Citizen, and Street Law. Others may last just a day or a few days, such as Legislators in the Classroom and Judges in the Classroom. 
 - Youth learn civics in a variety of afterschool programs as well, including mock trial, youth court, and others. Some are these activities are based in schools and some are based in community organizations such as Boy/Girl Scouts, YMCA, and 4H.

 - Adults learn quite a bit about our system of government through the media, including movies, TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, and websites. (Of course, much of this information is inaccurate.)
 - Many community groups invite guest speakers to their meetings to talk about their experience with or their perspectives on how our government functions.
 - Public facilities, such as courthouses, community centers and libraries, may offer civics information or events.
- Community events such as fairs or Law Day celebrations may offer information about the structure and functioning of government.

How can you increase understanding of our system of government in your community?

1. Bring together stakeholders, and invite people from other communities who have done what you're trying to do to discuss creating a local council.

 Possible stakeholders:
       County bar association
       Local judges
       School administrators and social studies teachers
       Youth court programs
       League of Women Voters
       Youth organizations: YMCA/YWCA, Boys & Girls Clubs, Boy/Girl Scouts, 4H, FFA
       Youth groups
       Local media (newspaper editors, radio/tv station managers)
      VFW, American Legion
      Fraternal organizations
      Service clubs

2. Assess what's already being done in your community.

3. Identify unmet needs in your community.

4. Identify potential programs/activities to meet those needs.

5. Contact CPLE about collaboration with you.

Whitman County PLE

We started an informal local council for public legal education in Whitman County in 2008-2009.  Working with judges, lawyers, teachers and interested citizens, we have formed a local Youth Court, centered in the Colfax High School to hear school rules violations on referral from the principal.  As this Student Court gets up and running, we hope to expand into other public education activities in the county.

Flame of Democracy Award

The Flame of Democracy Award was created to recognize significant contributions made to the public's understanding of the law, democracy and the legal system. It has been awarded periodically since its inception in 2002.  The recipient may be an individual or an organization.  Award winners include:

     Richard "Dick" Larsen, political writer for The Seattle Times, 2002

     Northwest Justice Project, self-help legal website, 2004

     Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney's Office Adopt a Classroom Project, 2004 

     League of Women Voters of Washington Education Fund,  2007



     Rick Nagel, mock trial coach/teacher at Franklin High School, 2009

     Stan Chalich, teacher at Central Valley High School in Spokane, 2009

     Mary Fairhurst, Washington Supreme Court Justice, 2011



     June Krumpotick, Self-Help program manager, Legal Voice, 2011



Press releases regarding the award recipients are available below.

Nominations for the award may be made by email.  Use the contact information below.


Mary Fairhurst

Washington Supreme Court Justice Mary Fairhurst, a leading advocate for public legal education and access to justice, was named the 2011 recipient of CPLE’s Flame of Democracy Award.

Fairhurst received the award from Marlin J. Appelwick and Judith Billings, co-chairs of the Council on Public Legal Education, before more than 80 national and state leaders in the field at Seattle University’s School of Law. Recognition of the justice’s contributions was one of several events commemorating Constitution Day on Sept. 17, 2011.

Fairhurst, who was first elected to the Washington Supreme Court in 2002, had been a member of CPLE for several years.

A 1984 graduate of Gonzaga University School of Law (cum laude), she spent the first two years of her career as a judicial clerk for Chief Justice William H. Williams and Justice William C. Goodloe. She later worked for Attorneys General Ken Eikenberry and Christine Gregoire, specializing in criminal justice, transportation, revenue, and labor.

Fairhurst organized the first statewide conference on domestic violence, and planned and facilitated a youth violence summit. She also worked on a constitutional amendment to increase the rights of crime victims, and organized conferences on sex offenders who live in the community after completing their sentences.

When she was elected president of the Washington State Bar in 1997, Fairhurst was the youngest woman to hold the position. She later served on the Bar’s Board of Governor’s, representing the Third Congressional District as president of Washington Women Lawyers.

The oldest of seven children, Fairhurst says she pursued law is help people. “I didn’t have any lawyers in my family,” she once told Gonzaga University, “So I didn’t know exactly what that meant besides watching ‘Perry Mason,’ and of course, I wanted to be Perry Mason.”

Though she did not work as a defense attorney like the television character, Fairhurst has devoted much of her career to giving voice to those underrepresented in the legal profession: women and minorities. She has also worked to ensure access to justice and fairness for all.

Fairhurst has written several majority opinions for the court, sometimes siding with law enforcement. But one of her most widely recognized opinions was a 2006 dissent, in Andersen v. King County, when the Supreme Court upheld the Legislature’s authority to limit marriage to heterosexual couples. She called the court’s majority opinion “blatant discrimination” against gay and lesbian citizens.

“I would hold that there is no rational basis for denying same-sex couples the right to marry,” Fairhurst wrote.

For the last two years, Fairhurst has been waging a personal battle against cancer. What began as colon cancer has returned to her lungs.  Although doctors are not optimistic, Fairhurst has not eased up on her work – or her hope for a recovery.

“I think my legacy, really, is that I love the law, and … really cared about people,” Fairhurst told KING-TV in October. “Really, it’s the people who make up the government. We are the government, and we have responsibility as citizens to make our government as good as it can be.”

Information from the Washington Courts, Gonzaga University, and KING-TV was used in this report.



Richard "Dick" Larsen

     Richard “Dick” Larsen, an editorial writer and political reporter for The Seattle Times, was the first recipient of CPLE’s Flame of Democracy Award.  Larsen received the award posthumously in November 2001, following his death earlier in the year at age 73.
     Larsen’s family accepted the award from then-Supreme Court Justice Faith Ireland at the annual meeting of the Bench-Bar Press Committee of Washington.
     A lifelong supporter of civic education and civility in politics, Larsen was a founding member of the Council on Public Legal Education and served as a media representative.
     He was a familiar face both in journalism and political circles.  Before joining The Times, he covered Tom Foley’s first run for Congress 1964 as a reporter for The Wenatchee World. The young congressman from Spokane was so impressed by Larsen’s political instincts that he hired Larsen as an aide on Capitol Hill.
     In 1968, Larsen returned to work as a political reporter for The Seattle Times, where he covered the state Legislature, city and county politics, and the presidential campaign of Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson. From 1984 to 1992, he wrote editorials and a regular column for The Times’ editorial page.
   He later joined U.S. Rep. Jennifer Dunn’s staff as an adviser. To those who knew him best, Larsen’s willingness to work for both Republicans and Democrats was no surprise.
   “Dick was respected by people of all political leanings,” then-Times Executive Editor Michael Fancher, told The Times shortly after Larsen’s death in April 2001.  “He earned their administration through the quality and even-handedness of his reporting. He never forgot that both journalists and politicians are servants of the public.”
   In addition to his work in newspapers, Larsen was an author.  He co-authored a book with William Prochnau on Jackson, “A certain Democrat: Senator Henry M. Jackson,” in 1972. And in 1980, he wrote a book about serial killer Ted Bundy, “The Deliberate Stranger,” which was later turned into a television movie.

Rick Nagel


          Above: Judith Billings, co-chair of the Council on Public Legal Education, presents the 2009 award to
            Rick Nagel at the YMCA Youth and Government's annual mock trial breakfast in Olympia.

     Rick Nagel, an inspiring coach to mock trial teams and the founder of a Law and Society class at Seattle’s Franklin High School, received the Flame of Democracy Award from the Council on Public Legal Education in 2009.
     Nagel coached hundreds of students who participated in the YMCA’s mock trial competition, including the 2000 national championship team from Franklin High School.
Nagel was also honored for his commitment to providing inner-city students with quality civics education at Franklin, where he created a Law and Society class in 1968. There, he rarely gave out As and held students to high standards.
    “The goal is very simple,” Nagel once told The Seattle Times. “I try to get (students) to think.”
   Judith Billings, co-chair of CPLE and former State Superintendent of Public Instruction, presented the Flame of Democracy Award to Nagel at the YMCA Youth and Government’s annual mock trial breakfast in Olympia in March 2009.
    Though his mock trial students practiced long hours and learned the art of interviewing witnesses in a courtroom, Nagel had no desire to encourage them to become lawyers. He believed teaching students how to reason, use analytical skills, and improve their poise in public would serve them well, no matter what profession they pursued.
    Nagel’s mock trial teams argued before an array of real-life lawyers and judges, including former Washington Supreme Court Justice Charles Smith. Under his leadership, Franklin’s mock trial team was the one of the most inning teams in the YMCA mock trial competition. As of 2000, the year Nagel retired after a 34-career, the high school had placed first four years in a row and advanced to the national mock trial competition twice.
    Before he became a teacher, Nagel thought he wanted to be an attorney. While attending the University of Washington School of Law, he wandered into the School of Education at Miller Hall. “I said, ‘That’s what I should be doing,” ‘ Nagel told The Times in 1997. “I’ve never regretted that.”
    The Seattle School District knew they had a gifted teacher in their ranks. In 1994, Nagel was awarded the Golden Apple Award, which recognizes excellence in teaching.
    His insistence on hard work and practice became Nagel’s trademark. Before any student could participate in mock trial, they had to complete the Law and Society class, where they learned the legal principles for court cases on many controversial social issues, such as abortion and physician-assisted suicide.
    “His kids cheer and stomp at mock trials just like they do at football games,” attorney Doug McBroom said in a 1995 Times article. McBroom’s daughter, Maurin, was a Nagel student and ultimately pursued law as a career.
    “Rick Nagel is there to develop minds, sure,” McBroom said. “But like any coach, he’s also out there to win.”


Great Moments in Democracy

Great Documents

Great Moments in History

Great Speeches

Great speeches can inspire us and stir us to action.   We revisit some of the great political speeches of all time in this section.  Featured is Martin Luther King Jr.'s impassioned civil rights speech, delivered during the March on Washington and widely regarded as one of the greatest American speeches ever made.  Other great speeches may be found in the Resource links following this text.

I Have A Dream
Speech delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr., at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.

August 28, 1963

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.

But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guarranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, nad the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. we must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" we can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

When we let freedom ring, whem we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"


Significant Judicial Decisions

In the News

August 6, 2018 - 2:27pm

The Council on Public Legal Education is accepting nominations for its Isidore Starr Flame of Democracy Award, given to an individual, organization or program in Washington State that has made a significant contribution to increasing the public’s understanding of law, the justice system or government. The mission of the CPLE is to promote public understanding of the law and civic rights and responsibilities.

September 13, 2017 - 4:17pm

The Civic Learning Initiative kicked off at Summit I in January 2017.  See what is driving this effort and get prepared for Summit II in January 2018.

November 10, 2016 - 12:42pm

       “I would like to thank everyone who supported me in trying to make a change in America. 

       Although we did not prevail in this election, the entire Speak-Out Party will forever and always speak up and stand up for what we believe in.

       I have come to greatly respect Lola Thompson for her determination, and I wish her the best of luck in protecting our glorious country. Thank you again for volunteering to make America stronger and better.”

              — Alma, presidential candidate of the “Speak-Out Party” 

August 11, 2016 - 2:51pm

In a recent nationwide poll, only about one-third of American adults were able to name the three branches of our government; one third of those could not name even one branch.

February 3, 2016 - 1:58pm

The Council on Public Legal Education is accepting nominations for its Flame of Democracy Award, given to an individual, organization or program in Washington State that has made a significant contribution to increasing the public’s understanding of law, the justice system or government. The mission of the CPLE is to promote public understanding of the law and civic rights and responsibilities.

June 12, 2015 - 12:53pm

During the 2015 Washington State Legislature, Regular Session, students from all over Washington State came to Olympia to attend Page School. Legislators sponsor the pages, who assist with the Legislature’s work by making deliveries and performing other tasks. Each day the pages spend part of the day in Page School learning about the legislature’s role and its process. They also learn about the role of the executive and judicial branches.

June 12, 2015 - 12:39pm

The annual mock trial season wrap-up email was more fun to write last year. Only two schools have ever won consecutive National High School Mock Trial Championships. For Seattle Prep, it was not to be. At the National tournament in Raleigh, Seattle Prep, representing Washington State, placed 15th overall in a field of 46 state champions, winning two trials, losing two, and earning eight ballots along the way. A Sacred Heart school from Nebraska beat Georgia in the final round. Neither team had been to Nationals before.

June 12, 2015 - 12:28pm

The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Time for another history lesson.

December 11, 2014 - 6:44pm

A video from Washington's judicial branch challenges some mistaken ideas about how courts work by using real person-on-the-street interviews and responses from judges, justices, a court clerk and a state legislator. The video was produced by the Public Trust & Confidence Committee of the Board for Judicial Administration (BJA) in partnership with Washington's public affairs station, TVW, with financial support provided by the Washington State Gender and Justice Commission and Minority and Justice Commission.

December 10, 2014 - 2:52pm

Capitol Classroom Success Story: 2014 Evergreen High School Students and Dextromethorphan


K-12 Civics Education Programs in Washington State

Washinton benefits from a great variety of civics education initiatives. Attached is a list of  those programs.  It was last updated April 2013. It is maintained by the Council on Public Legal Education, Please send corrections and additions to .

Street Law

Street Law Sites for 2012 - An Opportunity

The Washington Judges Foundation has made it possible to add two new Street Law classes to its program in which judges co-teach a practical law course with a teacher. Judges teach once per week for the semester. If you are interested and have a local judge you have connections to who might be interested, contact Margaret Fisher, . The judge-teacher training is August 18, 2012 at the AOC SeaTac Facility.

Volunteer Opportunities

provide a list of volunteer opportunities with short description, contact info and/or link.

Youth Courts

The Washington State Association of Youth Court has launched a blog at . The next statewide youth court training session is scheduled for October 20, 2012 at the Seattle University School of Law. All youth and adults involved in active youth courts in Washington are invited.For more information, contact Margaret Fisher,

Launching the Seattle Youth Traffic Court on February 8, 2012

On February 8, 2012, 28 Garfield High School students began their training to serve in the first-ever Seattle Youth Traffic Court. This constituted the formal start to the project formed with the Garfield High School, Seattle Municipal Court and the Seattle University School of Law. Law students assist high school students in their roles of judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, court staff, and jurors. The students decide on sentences for eligible defendants under 18 who have received civil traffic infractions within the city of Seattle.  For more information, contact Magistrate Lisa Leone, .

Principles of Democracy

Administrative Process

Balance of Powers

Executive Privilege

Federalism/States Rights

Federalist Papers

First Amendment/Five Freedoms

Freedom of the Press

Initiative and Referendum

What are initiatives and referendums?

Like many states, Washington’s Constitution provides both an initiative and a referendum process.  Both processes are a form of direct democracy allowing citizens to participate in the legislative process.  Initiatives and referendums are powerful tools that allow voters more control over how they are governed.

An initiative is a means for the public to put an issue to the ballot for a general vote.  The issue could be a proposed law or a constitutional amendment.  Not every proposal makes it on the ballot however.  Initiative backers must show that there is enough public interest in the issue to justify a public vote.  To show that there is sufficient interest, a minimum number of signatures of registered voters must be collected.  In Washington, the number of signatures to put an initiative on the ballot is equal to 8% of the number of votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial election.

A referendum is a means for the public to evaluate a law that was passed by the legislature.  Almost any law passed in Washington State is subject to the referendum.  The referendum process allows voters to overturn an unpopular law or validate a controversial one.  Like an initiative, a number of signatures must be collected to put a referendum on the ballot.  In Washington, that number is equal to 4% of the number of votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial election.

Judicial Independence

Judicial independence is key to the integrity of the balance of powers between the branches.

Jury Service

Jury service is one of the great privileges and significant responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy. Juries are empaneled for both civil and criminal cases.  You may be called as a juror in a municipal court, a county district court, a county superior court or a federal district court.  Most courts will have information on their web site about their particular procedures.  You can find a list of these web sites in the Find Law & Government section.  The Resource links below provide access to important information about your role as a juror.   

Legislative Process

Rule of Law

Separation of Powers

The Bill of Rights

The Judicial System

The Role of Judges

While it is the role of juries to decide the facts of a case, it’s up to the presiding judge or judges to determine which laws apply and how. This position carries a lot of responsibility – so how exactly do judges get into that position in the first place? The following links should help you understand on how judges get to be judges, and what they do while they’re there.

  • establishes the federal judicial branch and its basic terms of jurisdiction.
  • The explains what federal and state courts each do.
  • The way judges take to the bench in Washington may be changing. The Washington State Bar Association’s Bar News about the issue of appointment versus election.
  • Currently, Washington State judges are elected by popular vote. provides detail info about this year’s upcoming judicial elections in Washington State.
  • The American Judicature Society provides info about judges and judicial selection/election for every state, .  The American Judicature Society also compiles for the bench in every state.
  • Federal Judges are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate and serve a life term (they may remain judges as long as they like, provided that they remain in good conduct) with the exception of bankruptcy judges and magistrates. The Federal Courts website .
  • There are many different types of federal and state courts, for instance: tribal courts, maritime courts, bankruptcy courts and family courts. This article from the gives a brief overview of the different types of federal courts and how they operate.

The Responsibility of Citizenship

Tribal Sovereignty