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APRIL LESSON OF THE MONTH

U.S. Government Activators - The Judicial Branch

In case you haven’t noticed, the Supreme Court has thrust itself into the center of this year’s election campaign in a big way. As the Court began its 2011-2012 session in October, three of the cases it agreed to hear could have a strong influence on the upcoming elections and set a precedent for whether states or the federal government can regulate immigration. In January, the Court heard oral arguments in the redistricting case in Texas, which could cause as many as four seats in the House to change party. In March, the Court heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of President Obama’s signature legislative achievement, the Affordable Health Care Act. And if that isn’t enough excitement, in April, the Court will hear arguments on the validity of Arizona’s immigration law.

 These are very interesting times, and the Supreme Court is poised to a play a significant role in shaping our politics and our rights, as it has for the past 200 years. INTERACT’s Government Activators units provide students with active-learning lessons and simulations designed to take students deep into the workings of U.S. government and its relationship with its citizens. The Government Activators section “The Judicial Branch” (Volume I, Chapter 6) helps teachers give students a solid understanding of the Supreme Court, its history and its importance in the triumvirate of U.S. Government. The unit offers students the opportunity to delve deep into serious constitutional questions, such as: Can the government execute juveniles? Does banning books in school libraries violate students’ freedom of expression? Does a school district have the right to randomly conduct drug tests on students?

 In this lesson, students can engage in classic Supreme Court cases involving juveniles such as Brown v. Board of Education, In re Gault, and Tinker v. Des Moines School District. These cases delve deep into important constitutional questions of basic rights and limits on the powers of government. Students conduct moot courts, role-playing petitioners, respondents, or justices. They study the case to understand the facts and major arguments as well as the constitutional issue involved. Attorneys present oral arguments and the justices deliberate the case, providing majority and minority opinions. Much of the background on many of the cases is provided, but students are also encouraged to research cases further through very accessible legal resources such as Oyez.org and Justia.com.

 Other cases explored in “The Judicial Branch” can be integrated easily into U.S. History classes, providing students with a deeper understanding of important constitutional questions and a comparison of the limits of rights of juveniles and adults. The study of the Civil Rights movement is enhanced with the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) case study. The Vietnam War and the anti-war protests at home are enhanced with Tinker v. Des Moines School District (1969), a case exploring free expression. Issues surrounding the “Scopes Trial” (The State of Tennessee v. John Scopes 1925) are extended with Eppeson v. Arkansas 1968) involving evolution and creationism. Issues surrounding the 1735 Peter Zenger free press case can be updated and compared in the case of Hazelwood SD v. Kuhlmeier (1988). Further, limits on free speech are explored in Morse v. Frederick (2007), while Search and Seizure issues surrounding drug testing are examined in Vernonia School District v. Acton (1995).

“The Judicial Branch” unit is written for grades 7-12. It includes a historical background essay, activity-specific handouts (including graphic organizers), word banks, complete procedures, and assessments. Lessons run from three to four class periods, and all may stand alone.

 In addition to the historical cases, “The Judicial Branch” also provides a template for teachers to conduct “real time” cases such as the ones mentioned the court is hearing this session. The case study template can be adopted for different class sizes and has both teacher and student instructions. Students will gain a firm understanding of the arguments of both sides of the cases as well as the fundamental constitutional issues that are being decided. “The Judicial Branch” presents case law in an active-learning methodology to help students understand the fundamental constitutional issues and history.

To order this unit, please visit TeachInteract.com

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