Community Civics Outreach

The United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee is committed to enhancing public trust and confidence in the judiciary, increasing public awareness about the role and function of the federal courts, and improving communication with the public about the role of courts and the legal process.

With this objective in mind, the Court offers the following programs aimed at teaching students, educators, and adults about the justice system, the role of law in a democratic society and civic responsibility:

Teachers Law School

In collaboration with the American Board of Trial Advocates, the District Court will co-host a program designed for middle and high school educators interested in gaining a better understanding and appreciation for civics and law-related topics to take back to their classrooms. Examples of topics from previous Teachers Law Schools include Separation of Powers and Judicial Independence, the 4th Amendment in Schools, Social Media in Schools: Testing the 1st Amendment in the Digital Age, and Constitutional Issues and Rights of Students and Teachers.

For more information or to schedule an event, email the Civics Outreach Coordinator at

Teen Discourse and Decisions

The District Court, in coordination with the Federal Bar Association, invites high school seniors into the courthouse to meet with a District Court Judge or Magistrate Judge, and other legal professionals, to engage in discussions about legal issues relevant to teenagers today.

Teens will have the opportunity to test their legal knowledge, sharpen their civil discourse skills, and participate in a simulated court hearing on a contemporary Supreme Court case modified to apply to the life of today's teen.

Our experience has been that, when it comes to engaging students in these programs, the topics and presentations must be informative, relevant to the audience and entertaining. So, while we have a template for developing these particular programs we can also customize them for a particular school or group of students to make it more relevant and interesting to participants.

For more information or to schedule an event, email the Civics Outreach Coordinator at

Courthouse Tours

Clifford Davis / Odell Horton Federal Building
Clifford Davis / Odell Horton Federal Building
Jackson Courthouse
Jackson Courthouse

The District Court will open its doors to students for an inside look at how the federal court system operates.

Students will learn about civil cases and the federal criminal justice system as they tour the courthouse and meet with representatives from the following agencies:

The tour will culminate with a visit to a courtroom where students will have the opportunity to observe a real court hearing and, upon the hearing's completion, meet the presiding U.S. District Court Judge or Magistrate Judge.

For more information or to schedule an event, email the Civics Outreach coordinator at

Lecture Series

Our District Court Judges, Magistrate Judges and District Court personnel would be happy to meet with your students at your school, whether in individual classrooms or in a general assembly format.

From general discussions about the court process to more focused discussions about the history of the federal judiciary, the Constitution, the Supreme Court, state court versus federal court, etc., our District Court Judges and court professionals are prepared to present on a range of topics.

We can also provide materials as leave-behinds to better reinforce the information presented to your students. We have, in the past, offered a wide-range of topics and would be happy to discuss with any participating school the educational content that would meet the needs of their curriculum.

For more information or to schedule an event, email the Civics Outreach Coordinator at

Past Programs

In commemoration of the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the U.S. District Court held two panel discussions related to City of Memphis v. King, litigation over Dr. King's right to march with striking sanitation workers. Video of the panel discussions are available here.

On November 8, 2018, students from Munford High School's Dual Enrollment Class visited the Memphis Courthouse, where they met with representatives from the various court agencies and observed a sentencing hearing in U.S. District Judge John Fowlkes' courtroom. The students left with a much better understanding of the court process and the people that keep it running. Photographs from the students' visit are available here.

On January 23, 2019, Magistrate Judge Tu Pham visited Snowden School's 5th and 8th grade classrooms to speak with the students about the federal court system and exoneration. The kids were thrilled to meet a U.S. magistrate judge and are planning a visit to the U.S. District Courthouse in the near future. Photographs from Magistrate Judge Pham's visit are available here.

On February 12, 2019, United States District Judge John Fowlkes hosted students from the Madonna Learning Center. The students came prepared with questions for the Judge about himself and the legal system. Judge Fowlkes also elicited sworn testimony from some of the students about occasions when they've let their emotions get the best of them, and even "sentenced" one of the kids to probation for arguing with her parents. The students were visited by two additional District Court Judges, Judge Sheryl Lipman and Judge Mark S. Norris. Photographs from the kids' visit are available here.

On March 1, 2019, high school students involved with REACH Memphis, an area nonprofit providing extracurricular opportunities to students excelling in the Shelby County Schools, visited the Memphis Courthouse. The students in attendance were from REACH Memphis' Law Scholars Program, a program designed for students who have an interest in the legal profession. The attendees had the opportunity to learn more about the court process and careers in the legal field from U.S. District Judge Sheryl Lipman, and representatives from the various court agencies.

On April 11, 2019, 8th grade students from the Memphis homeschool community Classical Conversations visited Judge Fowlkes' courtroom to observe sentencing hearings, learn more about the role of the various actors in the criminal justice system, and ask questions of Judge Fowlkes. Such visit not only gave the students an inside look at how the justice system operates but served as a preview for their April 18, 2019, visit when the students took on the roles of prosecutors, defense counsel, and witnesses, for their mock trial competition presided over by Judge Fowlkes. The students did an incredible job presenting their cases and we look forward to seeing them in the future as attorneys. Photographs from the visit are available here.

On May 10, 2019, 8th graders from Memphis' St. Mary's Episcopal School visited the Memphis courthouse on the first leg of their "3 Branches Civics Field Trip." The group observed court proceedings in Judge Fowlkes, Judge Lipman, and Judge Parker's courts before participating in a scripted mock trial performance of the classic 1st Amendment case Tinker v. Des Moines School District. Judge Parker and Judge Norris assisted the student jurors during their deliberations. Photographs from the visit are available here.

On June 20, 2019, the Rhodes College Mock Trial program visited the Federal Building and after meeting with U.S. Attorney Dunavant, the students met with Judge Fowlkes to learn more about the federal judiciary.

In June/July 2019, Judge Fowlkes, Judge Lipman, Judge Parker, Magistrate Judge Pham, and Magistrate Judge Claxton assisted several high school students from the Memphis and Nashville areas taking part in the YMCA's Youth in Government program as they prepared for the organization's National Judicial Competition being held in Chicago during which they will present oral arguments to a model U.S. Supreme Court. Such mentorship culminated with the students visiting the Federal Building for a practice session on July 23, 2019, presided over by Judge Fowlkes, Judge Lipman, Magistrate Judge Pham, and Magistrate Judge Claxton. Photographs from their visit are available here.

On November 15, 2019, corrections personnel from Forrest City's Federal Correctional Complex's visited the Court and met with the others involved in the criminal justice process. The group met with representatives from U.S. Pretrial Services, U.S. Probation Office, U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the U.S. Federal Public Defender’s Office, before meeting with United States District Judge Sheryl Lipman. Pictures from FCC Forrest City’s visit are available here.

On October 4, 2019, the Court welcomed juniors and seniors from Briarcrest High School for an inside look at the legal process. Among other activities, the students had the opportunity to meet with and ask questions of United States District Judges John Fowlkes, Sheryl Lipman, and Thomas Parker. Photographs from Briarcrest's visit are available here.

On September 17, 2019, the Court celebrated Constitution Day and Citizenship Day by presiding over the naturalization of over 100 new citizens. Joining the judges and new citizens for the occasion were City of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, and members of East High School's Army JROTC Color Guard and Lady Decibel Choir. The Court was honored to have its own U.S. Magistrate Judge Tu Pham, himself a naturalized U.S. Citizen, share with the attendees his own journey to becoming a U.S. Citizen. Photographs from the ceremony are available here.

On February 28, 2020, a group of Shelby County students from REACH Memphis's Law Scholars Program visited the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee's Memphis division for a Courthouse Tour. During their visit, the students heard from, and had the opportunity to ask questions of, U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker and his law clerks, Kaitlyn Hansen and Benjamin Barsky; U.S. District Judge Sheryl Lipman; U.S. Magistrate Judge Tu Pham and his law clerks Jason Schabinger and Nigel Halliday; Doris Randle-Holt, Federal Public Defender for the Western District of Tennessee; Joseph Murphy, First Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee; Dean DeCandia, Assistant U.S. Attorney; Angie Yates, U.S. Pretrial Services Officer; Michelle Gonzalez, Supervisory U.S. Probation Officer; and Darrel Weldon, Deputy U.S. Marshal. The students had the opportunity to observe a Sentencing Hearing in Judge Parker's court and learn about the role and function of the federal judiciary from the dedicated individuals who serve within it. Photograph's from REACH's visit are available here.

The Federal Judiciary

July 2021

Senior Judge Curtis Collier reflects on the importance of being an active and well-informed citizen in his latest article, Active Citizenship.

May 2021

Senior U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier discusses the importance of civics education and civic participation in his latest article, What is the Price of Democracy?

April 2021

A common question raised about the federal courts, especially the Supreme Court, is why judges rule differently in the same or similar cases. Federal judges take an oath to "administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and [to] faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all [their] duties." If judges are intelligent and well trained in the law, why do they look at the same facts yet reach different conclusions?

Read the reflections of Curtis L. Collier, U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee, on why judges rule differently in similar cases, and on how the legal system provides protections against these differences.

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution reads, in part, that "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right ... to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense."

Read the reflections of Curtis L. Collier, U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee, on how the U.S. Supreme Court "breathe[d] life into the written words" of the Sixth Amendment in its 1963 decision in Gideon v. Wainwright.

January 2021

The nation will experience significant changes this January. The top echelon of the federal government will change. A new Congress was sworn in on Jan. 3, while the new President and Vice President will be inaugurated on Jan. 20. Both of these dates are enshrined in the Constitution as the end of one set of terms and the start of another. Normally, we celebrate these changes with elaborate ceremonies. And with the new President, Vice President, and Congress, we can expect to see new personnel, new policies, new priorities, new directions, and new ideas.

Read the reflections of Curtis L. Collier, U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee, on the changes in the elected branches of government and constancy of the judiciary.

Additional Educational Resources

For additional resources fostering civics education, the Federal Judicial Center, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the Federal Bar Association and other organizations have online resources for teachers and students available here: