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Distance Learning: Civics for Civic Engagement in the Federal Courts

Distance learning activities become civics for civic engagement when federal judges bring the rule of law, separation of powers, judicial independence, and jury service into students’ daily life. Student voice is incorporated into every activity.

Teachers and students can explore the pillars of literacy below:

With the guidance of federal judges and attorney volunteers in virtual court hearings, students learn and practice civil discourse skills as the foundation of effective dispute resolution in the law and in life.

Rule of Law in Your Life

The rule of law is the foundation of an orderly society. It creates a quality of life in which rights and responsibilities are respected. This 50-minute activity includes a video and live conversation with a judge about how the rule of law has a positive impact on everyday life. 

Court Shorts: Rule of Law

This four minute video and these Discussion-Starter Questions (doc) set the stage for engaging students, teachers, and adult learners with the Supreme Court Cases listed below. The video and dialogue can be part of a distance-learning experience (doc) with a federal judge. 

Rule of Law and the First Amendment in Action

Rule of Law and Civic Engagement in Action

Separation of Powers in Your Life

The dynamics of the separation of powers shape the role of government in daily life. As part of a 50-minute distance-learning experience with a federal judge, a brief video and an exploratory conversation make this abstract concept real for students.

Court Shorts: Separation of Powers

This four-minute video brings the separation of powers into the lives of students, teachers, and adult learners using the landmark case Texas v. Johnson in which a young protester burns the American flag. The Discussion-Starter Questions (doc) support the video.

Separation of Powers and the 1st Amendment

Students are attuned to the veracity of public statements. When a politician is accused of lying about his military record, all three branches come into play. In this case, the Judicial Branch decides if the First Amendment protects falsehoods.

U.S. v. Alvarez: Are Lies Protected Speech?

Separation of Powers and the 14th Amendment

The dynamics of the separation of powers were instrumental in the evolution of Title IX. The interplay of the three branches changed the future of student athletics.  The federal court decision that came out of that struggle had a lasting impact.

The Evolution of Title IX: And Gender Equity in Sports

Judicial Independence in Your Life

Judicial independence and judicial impartiality go hand in hand. Judicial independence assures litigants that judges will be impartial. These activities give insight into what judicial independence means to judges and, more importantly, what it means to litigants and society at large.

Judicial Independence in Perspective

The video and discussion questions are a backdrop for the resources here. The materials deal with the establishment of the federal court system; the landmark case that carved out the Judiciary’s equal status among the branches; and the role of the Courts of Appeals.

Judicial Independence and Judges

Federal Judges' Oath of Office

The intersection of the separation of powers and judicial independence comes to light in the judicial nomination and confirmation process. Although judges are nominated by the President and are confirmed by Congress, they are independent of both branches. When judges take the oath of office they commit to being independent and impartial.

The Judicial Nomination Process and the Judges’ Oath

Legal Skills as Life Skills

Judges bring courtroom programs into the distance-learning space with this series of activities that teach legal skills as life skills.

90-Minute Distance-Learning Module

Elonis v. U.S. Applied to Civil Discourse: Social Media and Cyberbullying. In this simulation, all students serve as lawyers and then as juror to examine the legal issues when a high school DJ uses memes to convey a message to his ex-girlfriend. Is the message a threat or is it artistic expression? Students practice civil discourse and problem-solving skills.

60-Minute Distance-Learning Module

Morse v. Frederick Applied to Civil Discourse:16-Year-Olds and the Right to Vote. Students in a school-supervised Constitution Day car parade demand the right to vote at age 16. When an official confiscates a student's banner “Bong Hits 4 Voting” claiming it promotes illegal substance use, the student sues the school on grounds that his First Amendment rights were violated.

50-Minute Distance-Learning Modules

The Preamble to the Constitution 

Students voice their opinions in this two-minute video, Promises of the Preamble. It sets the stage for a federal judge or a teacher to help students explore the meaning and significance in their lives of these immortal 52 words. Use or modify the agenda (doc) and the Discussion-Starter Questions (doc) to launch the conversation.

The Bill of Rights in Your Life

Students Sound Off About the Bill of Rights is a three-minute video that launches a robust discussion of individual rights. It also presents an opportunity to use civil discourse listening as well as speaking skills. After watching the video, a federal judge asks students to explore the personal significance of the rights called out by their peers on the tape. See the agenda (doc) for guidance. The Discussion-Starter Questions (doc) can be used as they are and/or modified.