Social studies students at La Salle-Peru Township High School received a first-hand account of the state's judicial system Thursday.

As part of an informal tour of schools and civic groups throughout the third judicial district, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride spoke to the L-P students on the judicial system and answered their questions.

Kilbride, who was born in La Salle, explained the processes legal cases can take through the circuit court system to appellate courts and in very few cases to the state supreme court. He also discussed the role of judges.

"Judges don't get to decide cases based on personal preferences," Kilbride said. "We have to decide by the law."

Part of Kilbride's mission was to improve civic literacy.

According to materials Kilbride gave to students, a 2008 study found more than 70 percent of sampled Americans failed a simple test of "America's founding principles and texts, core history and enduring institutions." The materials also noted a 2006 poll showed more Americans could name all Three Stooges than could name the three branches of American government.

The L-P students sitting in Matthiessen Auditorium managed to pass the Three Stooges test with no problem, although their knowledge seemed to thin when Kilbride asked a few more specific and locally-based questions, as evidenced by the student, sitting within earshot of this reporter, who was pretty certain that Sandra Day O'Connor was a judge serving on the La Salle County Circuit Court.

While he only briefly skimmed this topic, Kilbride didn't blame American teachers for the lack of knowledge civic knowledge in the country; rather he noted federal mandates that put the topic on the back burner –something teachers agree with.

"I think the social sciences are one of the neglected parts of our education system," social studies teacher Kristen Adams said.

Kilbride also spent about half an hour answering student and faculty questions, ranging from the daily life of a Supreme Court justice to bipartisanship in the Supreme Court.

Justice Kilbride was elected to the Illinois Supreme Court for the Third District in 2000.

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