Activities - Supreme Court Activity
The following activities are designed to make students aware of the impact that the Supreme Court has on their lives and why they should care about the workings of the Court, and the justices who are appointed to it. See the summaries of Supreme Court Landmarks.
Student Justices: An Exercise in Impartiality
In preparation for this activity, teachers should direct students to do research on the list of Supreme Court Landmarks.
When justices decide a case, they are not free to let their personal opinions affect the outcome. Rather, justices must put aside any personal biases and decide the case solely according to the law.
The students are organized into teams. Each team is assigned one case from the The students are organized into teams. Each team is assigned one case from the Supreme Court Landmarks. The students on each team review the case collectively, and then each student is asked to make a list of any biases that he/she may have about the case or any facts about their lives that may affect their decision-making process. The students also compile a list of facts that they deem relevant to the case, and facts that they deem irrelevant. In preparation for this event, teachers should have their students research these cases.
After completing these lists, the students talk about the case, their biases, and what they consider relevant facts in the case. The purpose of this exercise is to provide students with a means for recognizing their own biases, especially when the requirements of the law conflict with their personal feelings about the issues.
Finally, group members state how they would vote on their particular case if they were justices on the Supreme Court. The student justices provide and discuss the reasons for their votes, including their opinions on how the issues in the case could have an impact on students.
Student Justices: An Exercise in Collegiality
All groups are assigned the same case from the All groups are assigned the same case from the Supreme Court Landmarks page. The groups use the same procedures used for Activity #1, e.g., list their biases, determine the relevant points of the case, and decide how they would rule on the case if they were justices. After coming to a consensus, one member of each team is selected as a spokesperson. The spokesperson presents to the large group the team's biases, relevant points upon which members based their opinions, the group's decision, and their reasoning. The number of groups voting for each party in the case is recorded. The party receiving the most votes wins its case.
The host judge provides some background information about himself/herself and discusses the ways he/she deals with overcoming personal biases in order to follow the law. The judge then takes questions from the students.
Student Journalists and Pundits: An Exercise in Civil Discourse
Students divide into groups. Each group re-enacts a news interview program during which a panel discusses an assigned case from the Supreme Court Landmarks handout. Each group selects a moderator. The remaining members of the group divide relatively evenly into two sides, one for each party to the case. Members of each side take on a certain role and present their arguments from the perspective of their assumed role, e.g., a lawyer, legal scholar, and/or a legal commentator. The moderator asks thought-provoking questions that the panelists debate. At some point, students in the audience also may ask questions when recognized by the moderator.