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Details | State of Illinois Office of the Illinois Courts

Illinois Supreme Court history: Learning Center opens


By John A. Lupton Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission

The Supreme Court Justices welcomed approximately 40 invited guests to the Illinois Supreme Court Building on September 20, 2023, to announce that the Learning Center is officially open for business and is a welcoming place for visitors of all ages. Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission Director, John Lupton, and Chief Justice Mary Jane Theis spoke at the event. Dignitaries in attendance included local legislators and city council members, officials from the Illinois State Bar Association, representatives from the Springfield historical community, and two retired justices: Rita Garman and Thomas Kilbride.

The Learning Center is designed to enhance the visitor experience at the Supreme Court, providing an opportunity to learn what the judicial branch does and how it operates. This educational component will improve civic knowledge as studies consistently show that civic education increases civic engagement.

Dr. Samuel Wheeler, the Commission’s historian, worked closely with Taylor Studios, Inc., a museum design company based in Rantoul, Illinois, to develop the Learning Center. Visitors to the space will explore the ways the Court shapes our everyday lives by providing peaceful conflict resolution through interpretation of the law and contemplate the many ways we shape the court, whether through voting for justices, advocating for issues, or even by choosing a career in the field. Throughout the Learning Center, visitors will learn how cases make their way to the Supreme Court and examine how the Court selects the cases it hears.

The space also highlights a number of significant cases, including the country’s first fingerprint case, a case involving movie censorship, and a controversial case involving prayer in public schools. The controversial case, McCollum v. Board of Education, began in Champaign County in the mid-20th century when public schools offered religious instruction. Vashti McCollum, an atheist, sued the school board arguing that religious classes were a violation of the constitution’s Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which outlines the separation of church and state. McCollum lost her case at the Champaign County Circuit Court and on appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court. However, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case, ruling that the Champaign program was unconstitutional and reversed the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision. After reading the summary, Learning Center visitors can vote with a marble whether they agree or disagree with the decision.

The Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission is planning to seek private grants to assist with school field trips, enabling students to visit the Supreme Court Building, the Illinois State Capitol, and the Governor’s Mansion to gain insight into all three branches of Illinois government.

The public is invited to visit the Learning Center at the Illinois Supreme Court Building during its Monday through Friday hours of 8:30 a.m. - 4 p.m. For larger groups, reservations are necessary. Please contact Samuel Wheeler at 217-670-0890 or for more information.