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Federal Courthouse 'Learning Center' to Open in St. Louis
How does the work of the federal courts differ from that of state courts?
What are the different types of federal courts? What does “an independent
Judiciary” and “the rule of law” mean?
Visitors to the impressive Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse in St. Louis
have a hands-on opportunity to discover the answers to these questions, and
more, as a Judicial Learning Center opens its doors in May.
“This is not a museum,” explained Jim Woodward, clerk of court for the U.S.
District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, as he walked through the
center’s ground-floor home. “When this building was being planned, it was
decided that a space should be devoted to presenting clear, objective
information about the federal courts—about the courts’ roles, their structure,
Senior Judge Edward L. Filippine (E.D. Mo.) was an early champion of the
center. “His vision was to have an inviting space to accommodate student groups
or members of community organizations who visit the courthouse for scheduled
tours, and to attract visitors who may simply be curious about the building,”
A staple of the downtown St. Louis skyline (it is the city’s third tallest
building), the 28-story courthouse has about 650,000 square feet of usable
space, making it the nation’s largest federal court facility and the only one
that houses three distinct federal courts. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the
Eighth Circuit, the Eastern District of Missouri, and the Eastern District’s
U.S. Bankruptcy Court call the courthouse home.
Although the courthouse opened in January 2001, build-out of the
2,500-square- foot learning center did not begin until January 2006.
“It is a space dedicated to letting the public know just how much importance
our Constitution’s Framers attached to the federal courts and to an independent
Judiciary,” said Judge Catherine Perry (E.D. Mo), who served on a committee of
judges and lawyers who helped bring the project to completion.
“We want to inform visitors about the judicial process, to promote public
understanding of the importance of the rule of law in American society, and to
tell them why the Founders designed a separate but coequal branch of
government,” she said.
The Judicial Learning Center, a program supported by the courts of the Eighth
Circuit, is a non-profit corporation whose board members come from the St. Louis
legal community. Content for the center has been developed by educators,
lawyers, museum experts, and judges.
“A lot of brainstorming went into choosing basic topics,” Woodward said.
Once the topics were identified, St. Louis resident Jason Schmidt, a
third-year law student at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, was
given a 10-week contract to develop text material for the center’s permanent
Until those exhibits are installed, the center will feature various traveling
displays with justice and law themes. The first is one showing the role of the
U.S. district courts in immigration, naturalization and deportation
Nearly 2,000 immigrants are sworn in as new U.S. citizens in some 25
naturalization ceremonies held each year in the Eastern District of Missouri.
The center’s first exhibit, expected to be on display until July, was provided
by the American Immigration Law Foundation, and is entitled “America’s Heritage:
A History of U.S. Immigration.”
“Once we’ve completed all the permanent features, this will be a very
interactive experience,” Woodward said as he pointed out where a flat-panel
television with various video capabilities will be located. “The center will
include a replica of a judicial bench and a jury box. We know that students love
to sit in a judge’s or juror’s chair. They understand the importance of what
goes on in a court. We also hope to have a federal-courts-in-the-news feature
that will be updated daily.”
The center is considered an ideal place in which to begin organized tours for
students and other groups of visitors. Each of the courthouse’s tenants will
play a role in hosting visitors. “It’s a great place to set the right tone,”
Construction costs for the build-out of the center were shared by the General
Service Administration and the federal courts of the Eighth Circuit, but the
costs of updating content will be paid for by a separate and independent