- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 17, 2014

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said Wednesday it’s critical to the future of democracy to prepare school students for citizenship.

After citing statistics on how few students and adults can identify the three branches of government, O’Connor lamented that civics courses in schools have been “pushed aside.”

O’Connor was introduced to a standing ovation by retired Justice David Souter at the Capitol Center for the Performing Arts. Both are fervent advocates of bringing civics lessons back to the classroom.

“We’re failing to impart the basic knowledge young people need to know to be effective citizens,” O’Connor said. “In too many schools, the subject of civics is considered an elective or peripheral subject.”

“Our founding fathers, and mothers, didn’t consider civic education to be an elective,” she added.

O’Connor in 1981 became the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court, where she fostered a reputation over 24 years as a consensus builder. She retired in January 2006 - three years before Souter left the court in 2009.

They both spoke in general terms of their time on the court - its challenges and rewards.

“You get such tough issues and there are no easy solutions to some of them,” O’Connor said. “It was a remarkable experience.”

Souter credited civil knowledge for the justices’ ability to disagree vehemently on issues without anger.

“It never spilled over into uncivil confrontation. I never heard a voice raised,” Souter said.

O’Connor’s appearance was part of the “Constitutionally Speaking” lecture series that Souter founded two years ago to help educate teachers, students and citizens about the importance and obligations of citizenship and civic education. He also helped found the New Hampshire Institute for Civic Education. O’Connor is the founder of the website iCivics that promotes civic education and offers tools teachers can use to foster it.

During her tenure on the court O’Connor championed reproductive choice, affirmative action, privacy and disability rights.

She was also the swing vote in several major rulings, including the court’s 5-4 ruling in Bush-Gore that decided the 2000 presidential election. Last year she questioned whether the court should have accepted that case.

A Texas native, O’Connor served for two years on the Arizona Court of Appeals before President Ronald Reagan appointed her to the Supreme Court.

O’Connor, 84, continues to hear cases in the U.S. Court of Appeals.

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