By Marilyn Odendahl

The Indiana Citizen

March 26, 2024

Retired Indiana Supreme Court Justice Steven David believes there are three types of people in the world:  those who are on the field, those who choose to watch and those who like to complain.

As the keynote speaker for the 2024 Indiana Bar Foundation Civics Summit, David will be a main feature in a day-long discussion of how to increase civic engagement and grow Indiana’s voter registration rolls. He does not plan to berate or offer a complex analysis of democracy; rather, he said, he just wants to inspire more Hoosiers to get on the field.

“I just hope everybody likes to play more, likes to be more involved and wants to be more involved,” David said. “When you play, you run the risk of being disappointed, you run the risk of losing, but, to me, the risks are far outweighed by the positives.”

The summit, which will be on April 11 in Indianapolis, also will feature panel discussions and the chance to connect with others who champion civic involvement. Topics on the agenda include reviewing the 2023 Indiana Civic Health Index, strategizing ways of improving voter registration among young adults, incorporating more civics education in the classroom and engaging more citizens in their communities.

“We are excited about the opportunity to convene key leaders and organizations who can help us move the needle to more actively and civically engaged youth here in Indiana,” Charles Dunlap, president and CEO of the Indiana Bar Foundation, said in a press release. “We hope to build on the progress made after our inaugural summit when we established an Indiana Civics Coalition of people who shared a passion for improving communities and advancing the cause of civics in our state.”


‘We have a lot of work to do’

As the keynote speaker, David said he is going to focus his keynote address on the country’s and Indiana’s need for citizens to be broadly engaged in civic life. He plans to encourage the attendees to do everything they can to promote civic education, voter registration and active participation.

“It’s imperative that all of us in this country not take for granted what we have, what we’ve been given and what we’ve earned,” David said. “What, to me, separates us from the rest of world, and makes us the envy of most of the world and the enemy of some, is our system of government, being bound to the rule of law, our ability to have different political parties operating free in a country without retribution or suppression and to have public discourse, difference of opinion and exchange of ideas.”

Prior to being appointed to the Indiana Supreme Court in 2010, David built a distinguished career in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps and on Reserve duty, serving in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as trial counsel, defense counsel, military judge and commander. He achieved the rank of colonel and, among numerous recognitions, was awarded the Defense Superior Service Medal.

Also, David was a trial court judge in Boone County for 15 years.

Since retiring from the Supreme Court in 2022, David has been serving as a senior judge and of counsel at the Hamilton County law firm on Church Church Hittle and Antrim. He also continues to mentor, volunteer and, generally, says, “Yes,” whenever someone calls asking him to help.

David sees everyone as being a public servant and, therefore, having an obligation to participate and be active not only as a voter but as a citizen and neighbor. A small group cannot do all the heavy lifting, he said, so everyone has to contribute to make our democracy strong and prepare the next generation to fulfill their civic duties.

“(We have) to understand that that just doesn’t happen automatically,” David said. “That doesn’t mean that everybody’s required to give 20 or 30 or 40 hours a week to that, but there should be, at the end of the week, at the end of the day, at the end of the month, at the end of the year, some reflection, in my opinion, ‘What have I done for my community? What have I done to be a good citizen?’ … I think we all have an obligation and we need to be reminded why that’s important.”

The Civics Summit, David said, will give teachers, community leaders and other Hoosiers who care about civics a chance to recharge and be reminded of the importance of civics education and civic engagement.

“I’m going to focus on why all of this matters, why they matter and what their role is,” David said, adding he wants his keynote speech to be as informative, fun and upbeat as possible – “but also sobering in the sense that we have a lot of work to do.”


A push for voters

Last year’s inaugural summit brought together business professionals, public officials, nonprofit leaders, educators and students. The gathering excitedly anticipated the launch of a new civics class for all Hoosier sixth graders and discussed ways to improve civic knowledge and participation among adults.

However, the 2023 edition of the Civic Health Index shows much work remains to be done in Indiana. In particular, the Hoosier state continues to lag far behind the rest of the country in voter participation, ranking 40th in voter registration and 50th in voter turnout during the 2022 midterm elections.

The focus for civic leaders in the 2024 election year is to register and encourage young adults to vote, said Bill Moreau, co-founder and president of The Indiana Citizen Education Foundation, an Indiana Civics Coalition member.

“We believe that by coming together,” Moreau said, “we can inspire younger generations to become active participants in our democracy.”

If you go

The 2024 Indiana Bar Foundation Civics Summit will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on April 11 at the Ivy Tech Culinary and Conference Center, 2820 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis. The registration deadline is April 1 with breakfast and lunch included in the $50 fee.

For more information and to register, visit the Indiana Bar Foundation website.

Dwight Adams, a freelance editor and writer based in Indianapolis, edited this article. He is a former content editor, copy editor and digital producer at The Indianapolis Star and, and worked as a planner for other newspapers, including the Louisville Courier Journal.

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