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Separation of Powers

This activity is an appellate hearing and explores the legal concept of separation of powers by analyzing the Supreme Court case U.S. v. Alvarez.

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Activities

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A federal judge is the Chief Justice and two lawyers coach the student attorneys.  Every student plays a role.  Eight are Supreme Court Justices.  All others are members of two attorney teams – one representing the U.S. and one representing Alvarez.  Student attorneys choose from the arguments listed on the worksheet provided as they prepare for and conduct a simulation of appellate arguments.  Student justices ask questions of the student attorneys. 

Teacher/Judge and Attorneys Prep Time: Reading the prepared materials (30 minutes).

Timing – As a Classroom Activity: One 50-minute class period.  In-class preparation (15 minutes) Presentation and oral argument simulation (20 minutes)  Debriefing (15 minutes). Teacher or a guest attorney presents the Supreme Court's decision using the prepared materials.

Students' In-Class Preparation: (15 minutes) (1) All students read the prepared materials.  They do not receive or read the holding in U.S. v. Alvarez at this time.  (2) Two students prepare to present the facts of the case.  (3) Half of the students are assigned to represent Alvarez.  Half of the students are assigned to represent the U.S.  (4) Using the How Would You Decide worksheet, the students on each side work in small groups to identify which arguments support Alvarez (A) and which support the U.S. Government (US).

Note About Distributing the Court's Holding: The holding in the case is not distributed until the attorneys and judge conduct the debriefing, after the oral arguments.  During the debriefing, the attorneys go through the ruling and explain a plurality opinion.

Timing – As a Courtroom Activity (Prep Time Included): One 90-minute court session with a judge and attorneys.  Two attorneys present the facts of the case (20 minutes).  Participants prepare for oral arguments – same as classroom preparation – using the small-group worksheet exercise (10 minutes).  For the oral arguments simulation,  see the Supreme Court simulation box (30 minutes). Debriefing with judge and attorneys (30 minutes).