American schoolchildren are growing up with a badly oversimplified lesson about their own government. They are learning that the U.S. Supreme Court is the nation’s “highest court,” a label that erroneously diminishes the power of state supreme courts. Correcting this understanding goes beyond pedagogical accuracy — it is essential for our democracy.

As future voters, students should gain a proper understanding of the impact of their state supreme courts, rather than learning to aggrandize the U.S. Supreme Court alone.

While Washington alone determines U.S. Supreme Court seats, voters elect state supreme court justices in nearly half the states. In other states, citizens can boot justices by voting not to retain them. Right here in Illinois, state Chief Justice Anne Burke recently announced her retirement, and the Nov. 8 elections will decide which party controls the state supreme court.

Coming on the heels of the demise of Roe v. Wade, the new school year — and a new U.S. Supreme Court term beginning early next month — provide the perfect moment to reassess how teachers and parents characterize the Supreme Court and other courts in the classroom and beyond.
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