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What do today’s youth know about America’s justice system and its role in government?

An essay contest sponsored by the Nevada Supreme Court will help answer that question, and will give one Elko County student an inside look at the court. The winning essay also will be published in the Elko Daily Free Press.

It’s part of national Law Day activities, and the topic looks at how the 14th Amendment has transformed American democracy.

America has been called a “nation of laws.” It’s also considered a constitutional republic in which citizens elect representatives to create, implement and interpret laws for each of us to follow.

The process includes legislators who pass laws, executives who enforce them, and judges who review them and ensure that individual cases are handled fairly within the constitutional framework.

Beyond this are the news media, which comprise the “fourth estate” responsible for informing the public about the operation of the three official branches of government. Here the process comes full circle; if the public is not satisfied they have the power to elect new legislators, executives and judges – with the exception of the U.S. Supreme Court and those states where justices are appointed by the executive branch.

It’s not a perfect system, nor do we live in a perfect world. Our state and federal constitutions are the bedrock of justice but they are occasionally amended.

None of the above processes will work effectively if citizens are not educated on how the system works. That’s why we at the Elko Daily Free Press were pleased to join the Nevada Supreme Court in announcing the Law Day Essay Contest, which asks the question “How has the 14th Amendment shaped American society?”

Section 1 of the amendment states : “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The amendment was passed in 1868, and it dealt with the rights of former slaves after the Civil War. It’s in the spotlight again as illegal immigration and deportation policies change under the Trump Administration.

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Students have a chance to respond by writing an essay of 300 words or less, which must be emailed to lawdaylive@nvcourts.nv.gov by 5 p.m. April 28. Winners will be announced the week of May 8.

The winning student will receive $100, a tour of the Nevada Supreme Court, lunch with Justice Lidia S. Stiglich, a signed certificate from Chief Justice Michael A. Cherry, and the essay will be published in the Free Press. Second and third place winners will receive $50 and a signed certificate from Cherry.

We think Law Day events sponsored by the American Bar Association are a great way to educate students about the judicial branch of government. The voters of tomorrow need to know how government works, but they also need to know how to think and reason as the process of refining the Constitution continues into the future.

We hope many students – and even some adults – take time to ponder the essay question and how it relates to human rights as the annual May 1 Law Day observation approaches.

Members of the Elko Daily Free Press editorial board are Travis Quast, Jeffry Mullins and Marianne Kobak McKown.

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