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Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Have you ever wondered why some cases are heard in federal court and others are heard in state court? Missourians now can learn the answer directly from judges, thanks to a comprehensive new civic education program created by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, the Judicial Learning Center in St. Louis, the Supreme Court of Missouri’s civic education committee, and the department of citizenship education of The Missouri Bar.

Titled “A Conversation About the Courts,” the program features a video in which judges discuss similarities and differences in the judicial selection methods, jurisdiction and caseloads of the federal and state court systems. Representing the state system is Judge Ted House, senior judge in the 11th Judicial Circuit (St. Charles County) and former chair of the civic education committee. Representing the federal system is Judge Henry E. Autrey, United States district court judge for the Eastern District of Missouri and a former circuit judge in Missouri’s 22nd Judicial Circuit (St. Louis city). Judge Joseph L. Goff Jr., associate circuit judge in St. Francois County (in the 24th Judicial Circuit) and vice chair of the civic education committee, moderates the conversation.

“I am often asked – as I am sure federal judges are too – about the differences between federal and state courts,” Supreme Court of Missouri Judge Mary R. Russell, the Court’s liaison to the civic education committee, said. “I am so pleased we were able to collaborate with the federal district court in helping to answer those important questions for Missourians.”

Judge Rodney W. Sippel, chief judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, agreed.

“This project – which brings together the United States District Court’s Judicial Learning Center, the Missouri state courts and The Missouri Bar – shows the shared commitment by state and federal judges to civic education and how our court system works,” Sippel said. “As Thomas Jefferson said, ‘An informed citizenry is at the heart of a dynamic democracy.’”

The video is available from Accompanying the video are a variety of learning tools for teachers and students, including a transcript of the video, a vocabulary list, pre- and post-tests for middle and high school students, and suggested student activities. Additional information comparing state and federal courts is available at The presentation also is suitable for adult audiences.

While this is their first partnership, all three organizations offer a variety of civic education resources for students and adults. More information about the federal Judicial Learning Center, housed at the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse in downtown St. Louis, is available at Educational resources from The Missouri Bar’s citizenship education department are available at And the Supreme Court of Missouri’s civic education committee offers nearly 20 presentations through

All these resources are free, interactive and can be adapted to suit a variety of audiences. Judges from both the state and federal courts are available to speak with student or civic groups in person, as COVID-19 conditions might allow, or virtually.


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