Rep. Murphy gives Mt. Lebanon students a feel for law
The inaugural meeting of the Jefferson Middle School Law Club got an illustrious start in Mt. Lebanon, with a lesson in how laws are made taught by a lawyer from a Downtown firm and U.S. Congressman Tim Murphy.
Reed Smith lawyer Sasha Williams, parent of a seventh-grader at Jefferson, said she wanted students to understand how pervasive laws were in affecting their daily lives — from local ordinances to traffic laws, food-safety laws and the Constitution — so they could be informed in how to use them, how they are made and how they can be changed.
“Starting civics education is incredibly important,” Williams said. “The earlier it sinks in, the better they are prepared to be good citizens and to have the tools they need to make change.”
Using a hypothetical bill that would require students to take home 10 hours of homework every night, Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, last week demonstrated to about 16 students how to get bills introduced, gather co-sponsors and get their first hearings — or don't — in committees.
He talked about how citizens, even children like those in the law club, can petition their government; how presidential vetoes and votes to override them can work; and how he wants Congress to focus on mental health concerns in the aftermath of a number of deadly shootings perpetrated by suspects with mental health issues.
Murphy said he was impressed by the caliber of questions the students asked, including the topic of government Internet and email spying under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, whether such spying was constitutional and how it compared to Internet surveillance and censorship in China or the Middle East. Murphy voted to reauthorize FISA in September.
“This is a pretty good school. Maybe you don't need 10 hours of homework a night,” he told the students.
“I wish all Americans had the same knowledge of our Constitution that these students do,” Murphy said after the club's meeting. “I want them to understand they play a role in this country, even if they're not voting.”
Williams said the club eventually will visit the Court of Common Pleas and U.S. District Court, Downtown; will talk with other lawyers from Reed Smith; meet with Court of Common Pleas Senior Judge R. Stanton Wettick; and conduct a mock trial in Wettick's courtroom. It meets Tuesdays after school in the Jefferson Middle School library.
Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or firstname.lastname@example.org.