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Bar News - November 14, 2008


LRE Thanks Two We the People Champions

Howard J. Zibel and Martin P. Honigberg

We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution (WTP) is a highly regarded institution of the NH Bar Associationís Law Related Education program (LRE). Its star-status is due largely to the participation of attorneys and judges who support it by their generous contributions of time and effort.

Two of the most active participants for the past several years have been Howard J. Zibel, general counsel, NH Supreme Court and Martin P. Honigberg, an attorney with Sulloway & Hollis in Concord.

The LRE program would like to thank these two men for all they have done to promote the We the People program. Zibel has been involved for the past 21 years. "I judged the very first WTP district level competition in New Hampshire, which took place on Dec. 14 and 15, 1987. I have judged every district level and state level competition in New Hampshire since that time," he says.

Zibel judged the national finals for the first 20 years of the program (1988 through 2007). He first traveled to Washington, DC for the national competition in 1988, the first year of the program (1987-88 school year). He points out that September 17, 1987 was the bicentennial of the Constitution.

"We the People was originally known as the National Bicentennial Competition on the Constitution and Bill of Rights," he recounts, "and that was the name of the program for its first five years, spanning the period of the bicentennial of the Constitution through the bicentennial of the Bill of Rights (December 15, 1991)."

Asked which unit of the textbook is his favorite, Zibel says, "Unit 5 covers the Bill of Rights. I most enjoy First Amendment questions and, in fact, presented a lengthy lecture on the religion clauses of the First Amendment at one of the first WTP Summer Institutes."

So far in 2008, he has judged the state competition in January; was a presenter at the NHPTV "Back to School Bash" in August and did the Constitution Day demonstration video at NHPTV on September 17. As he has done in previous years, Zibel will hold an orientation for judges before both the district and state competitions begin. He will also serve as a judge for the district competition in December and for the state competition in January.

Martin Honigberg first became involved with We the People during the 2001/2002 school year serving as judge at the district and state competitions in December and January. He was nominated and accepted to attend his first national finals in Washington, D.C. in May 2008.

Honigberg attended the social studies teachers event at NHPTVís "Back to School Bash" in August of this year and the taping of a demonstration with Milford alumni in Septemberóa Constitution Day video. He says, "Itís a fun and stimulating intellectual exercise to engage the students in a discussion of the constitution, its history, and its application. Itís unusual for most lawyers to have discussions like these in their daily practices and it makes a nice change of pace, while giving the students and their teachers an opportunity to interact with lawyers who have studied and, in some cases, have to apply constitutional principles as part of their jobs."

Honigberg has judged almost every unit of the accompanying textbook at least once over the years and has often filled in at the last minute for someone who couldnít make it. "I think Unit 6 is the hardest for both the students and the judges, because it looks at current civic and political activity, which can make it extremely difficult to work in relevant references to the Constitution," he says.

"There are aspects of every unit that I enjoy. For example, in school I never studied the political philosophers whose work informed the framers. Iíve enjoyed learning about their thinking and how their work influenced the process."

Some of the rewards

"I think other attorneys should be involved," said Zibel, "because attorneys have an obligation to impart a respect for our founding documents and for the rule of law to future generations. WTP does just that. Also, I think other attorneys might like to be involved simply because itís fun."

In an interesting observation about the effects of the We the People program on young people, Zibel says, "I believe We the People and programs like it are crucial to the survival of our constitutional democracyÖ. The fact that now so many million students have been exposed to the We the People program during the past twenty-plus years has, I believe, played a part in the increased participation by young people in the political process." (See note at end of article.)

"The students and teachers are amazing. As Iíve often said, many of the students could be dropped into a law school, constitutional law class and do just fine," says Honigberg.

"I think the use of the hearing as a way to evaluate the depth of the studentsí knowledge and understanding is a great alternative to writing a paper or doing a simple presentation," he continued. "More often than not, their knowledge and understanding exceeds that of the panel of judges."

NOTE: Research released from the Center for Civic Education identifies WTP Alumni students vote at higher rates than their peers. A full report is available online at www.civiced.org/research.

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