Richard Levenstein and Annette Pitts. Photo: Raychel Lean/ALM

America, we have a problem.

About 97 percent of noncitizens taking the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services nationalization test can earn a passing grade. But when it comes to people born in the U.S.?  Only 33 percent can pass, speakers told attendees at one of the first sessions of the Florida Bar Convention Thursday.

And that’s a reason for self reflection, according to keynote speakers Richard Levenstein and Annette Pitts.

The speakers encouraged attorneys to go back to basics, take a step back from their public roles and rethink what they know about the U.S. Constitution. The goal is to have attorneys help lead the charge to educate the public this year, especially on Constitution Day, Sept. 17.

“What is the rule of law?” Pitts, executive director of the Florida Law-Related Education Association asked the room.


Most audience members were well-established and far into their careers, so it didn’t seem unusual they’d need to go back to basics, or find time to revisit things they already know.

The refresher course helped prepare attorneys to stage interactive programs in public libraries, community centers and clubs across the state. It involved an array of interactive exercises to guide participants through key aspects of the U.S. Constitution.

It’s an important lesson, especially as Florida voters prepare to weigh proposed changes to the state’s constitution, including a voting restoration amendment and a proposal for voter control of gambling in Florida.

An understanding of the fundamental document — the Constitution — is crucial, the speakers said, especially since some proposals might be less popular than they appear.

“See who actually proposed it,” Pitts said. “What group of citizens? How much money was raised?”