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February 15, 2013

The Federal Confirmation Process: Choosing the Right Person for the Job

By Lisa Prososki

Subjects

Social Studies, Government, History

Estimated Time

Approximately three 45-minute class periods

Grade Level

Grades 9-12

Objective

Students will:

  1. Use prior knowledge to create working definitions of terms related to the separation of powers and the system of checks and balances.
  2. Participate in class and small group discussions and brainstorming activities.
  3. Utilize graphic organizers and flow charts to show relationships between the three branches of government and processes related to confirming presidential appointees.
  4. Conduct research using a number of primary sources to find facts that support the opinions and ideas of their designated political party.
  5. Participate in a class debate using facts, examples, and reasons to support the ideas they are presenting.
  6. Utilize decision making skills as they cast their ballots and record specific reasons for their votes.
  7. Draw conclusions based on statistical data.
  8. Utilize basic computation skills and create graphs and charts from their mathematical data (optional)

Background

In the shadow of the 9/11 attacks, the director of the CIA is of key importance in the U.S. government. President Bush recently nominated long-time politician, Porter Goss, for the job, stirring up much controversy, particularly among democrats. With the 2004 presidential election fast approaching, some wonder whether the confirmation process will be split along party lines. In addition, there have been many who have commented on the politics and procedures surrounding the entire confirmation process, especially after the confirmation hearings involving current Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Procedure

Part 1

Reviewing the System of Checks and Balances (approx. 45 minutes)

  1. Before class, place either a red or blue sticker on the top corner of each index card. Be sure to create enough cards for each student in the class to have one. There should be an equal number of cards with red and blue stickers. Have the term “Checks and Balances” written on the board or overhead. As students enter the classroom, give each student an index card. Do not allow students to exchange index cards.
  2. Once students are seated, direct them to write their names on the top of the index card. Next, direct their attention to the term “Checks and Balances” on the board. Give students 60-90 seconds to use their prior knowledge to write a definition for the term on their index card. If students are unfamiliar with the term, ask them to make an educated guess about what it means.
  3. Working as a class and using students’ brainstorming ideas, create a definition for the term checks and balances. After 5-10 minutes of discussion and brainstorming, help the class get to a definition such as: “Checks and balances are a system that keeps one branch of government from having more power than the others. It helps to separate and define the powers that each of the 3 branches of government have.”
  4. Next, review the 3 branches of government: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. Use a graphic organizer such as the one found at The Social Studies Help Center to show students a basic summary of each branch and its powers. Visit the U.S. Constitution Online for articles on the separation of powers and the system of checks and balances. Be sure all students understand the basic powers of each branch, particularly when it comes to presidential appointments.
Part 2

Learning about the Federal Confirmation Process (approx. 45 minutes)

  1. Next, introduce students to the process one must go through if he/she is appointed to a key position by the president. Using the Confirmation Process Flow Chart, have each student complete a graphic organizer that shows the steps a candidate must go through in order to be placed in the job. Work as a class to discuss each component and how the system of checks and balances is working throughout the process.NOTE: The paragraphs below summarize the Federal Confirmation Process for Presidential Appointees.The Federal Confirmation Process is part of the Checks and Balances system. It allows the President to appoint cabinet officers and senior cabinet department heads along with federal supreme court judges and other members of the federal judiciary. Once the President announces the appointees, the Legislative Branch ensures that the nominees are well qualified for the position by conducting Senate Confirmation Hearings.

    During the process, members of the Senate interview and question nominees about a wide range of topics related to their qualifications for the job and ideas about how they will operate in the position. Upon completion of the hearings, the Senate then votes on whether or not to confirm the President’s nominee for the position.

    If the nominee receives the majority of the Senate’s votes, he/she will be confirmed. In addition to the Senate Confirmation Hearings, all nominees are also thoroughly investigated by the FBI and must complete various paperwork, including a financial disclosure. A White House Review ensures that members of the Executive Branch support the President’s nominee for the position.

    The Federal Confirmation Process is a good example of how the system of Checks and Balances allows the Executive Branch to choose people for specific jobs, while requiring review of the nominees by the Legislative Branch to ensure that all nominees are truly qualified to work in the position they have been nominated for. This keeps the Executive Branch from nominating people who might support only the political views and agenda of the president. At the same time, it allows the president the ability to choose qualified, fair people to work in key positions within the government.

  2. Once students have completed the flow chart and have a basic understanding of the process, introduce them to Porter Goss using a newspaper or magazine article or an online source such as: PBS NewsHour | Pres. Bush Nominates Porter Goss as CIA Chief. Discuss the importance of this job in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the emphasis placed on homeland security and fighting terrorism in the U.S. and abroad.
  3. In the second part of the discussion, talk about why political parties can make a difference in a nomination such as this, particularly since it is an election year. Some topics to explore in this discussion could include:
    • What does it mean when we use the term “partisan politics”?
    • Do you think some politicians will vote against a person who is qualified to do a certain job just because of the political party he/she is affiliated with?
    • If the legislative branch successfully blocks a presidential nomination in an election year close to the time of the election, what impact could this have on the president and his opponents as they are campaigning?
  4. Now it is time to go back to the index cards distributed at the beginning of class. Use these to break students into two groups. Red should go to one side of the room, blue to the other side. From here, students should choose a partner with the same color sticker. At this time, tell students if they are red, they are democrats and if they are blue, they are republicans (or vice versa). Partners should move to be seated next to one another in class.
  5. Distribute a Finding the Facts worksheet to each student. Review the directions for completing the worksheet. Explain to students that they will be working with their partner to find answers to questions about whether or not Porter Goss should be approved at the head of the CIA. Stress the importance of doing fact-based research while recording facts that support the particular point of view supported by the party they are representing. Remind students they will be relying on the data they collect to conduct a class debate about the Goss confirmation.
Part 3

Should Goss Be Confirmed? An Informal Debate (approx. 45 minutes)

  1. Once all students have completed their worksheets, place all of the democrats on one side of the classroom, and place the Republicans on the other side. Allow the groups 5-7 minutes to share the answers to their questions and discuss all related information they have about worksheet questions.
  2. Next, create a large flow chart like the one from the Confirmation Process Flow Chart worksheet and place it on the overhead or board. Have students work as a class to fill in the specific steps that will need to be taken to decide if Porter Goss will be confirmed.
  3. Explain to students that you will now act as the moderator for an informal debate about Porter Goss and whether or not he should be confirmed for the position to head the CIA. The “Democrats” and “Republicans” will need to take turns presenting the facts that support their ideas about the qualifications and effectiveness of this particular candidate. Encourage students to share as much information as possible when presenting their ideas. Allow for debate and discussion between the two sides for as long as time permits or until all ideas are exhausted.
  4. Close class discussion about the confirmation process by reminding students about what they learned about “partisan politics” earlier. Then, using the back side of the index cards, have each student vote YES if they would confirm Porter Goss for the job as head of the CIA or NO if they would not confirm him. In the space below their vote, have each student write 1-2 sentences explaining the reasons for his/her vote.
  5. Collect all of the ballots and do a quick tabulation. Show the following data:
    • Total # of YES votes
    • Total # of NO votes
    • Total # of Yes and No votes from each party (use the stickers on the front to help you gather this data)

    NOTE: To add a math element, have students create charts or graphs to represent the results of the voting.

  6. End with a final discussion about the results of the vote. Include ideas such as:
    • Do you think “partisan politics” made a difference in the classroom vote?
    • Do you think the class vote is representative of what will happen once the actual confirmation vote is taken? Why?
    • Do you think if Goss were chosen he would be the right person for the job?
  7. Continue following up on this activity by keeping a blank copy of the confirmation process flow chart posted in the classroom and completing it as various phases of the confirmation process take place. In addition, encourage students to post current news articles about the process and take time to share these with the class periodically until the decision about Goss has been made.

Extension Activities

1. Rather than simply debating the appointment of Porter Goss, have students conduct a mock confirmation hearing. Assign students roles and have them use what they learned from completing their research to conduct the hearing. Prep students by establishing ground rules for conduct and questioning as well as a time limit for the completion of the hearing and the subsequent vote on whether or not to confirm Goss.

2. Examine the confirmation process more closely, especially as it relates to the appointment of judges on the federal level. There has been much controversy over the confirmation process, and with two Supreme Court justices due to retire soon and the potential to have a new president in place, many are suggesting that the process needs to be evaluated. Have students research the controversy surrounding the confirmation process for judges and present possible solutions for ensuring that the best judges are chosen for federal positions, particularly the Supreme Court. Have students present these ideas in the form of persuasive speeches, letters to the editor, or editorials.

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  • The Materials You Need

    Tooltip of materials

    • Confirmation Process Flow Chart worksheet (in PDF format) (a Teacher Key is provided
    • Finding the Facts worksheet (in PDF format)
    • Index cards (1 per student)
    • Red and blue stickers (enough of each color for half of the class)
    • Access to Internet and library research materials
    • Photocopies of recent news articles about Porter Goss being named to lead the CIA (see links in step 6)
    • Photocopies or Internet access to graphic organizers related to separation of powers and checks and balances (see links below in step 4)

    Common Core Standards

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    Relevant National Standards:
      Civics
    • Standard 5: Understands the major characteristics of systems of shared powers and of parliamentary systems
    • Standard 20: Understands the roles of political parties, campaigns, elections, and associations and groups in American politics
    • Writing
    • Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes
    • Reading
    • Standard 7: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts
    • Listening and Speaking
    • Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes
    • Viewing
    • Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media
    • Thinking and Reasoning
    • Standard 1: Understands and applies the basic principles of presenting an argument
    • Standard 6: Applies decision-making techniques
    • Working with Others
    • Standard 1: Contributes to the overall effort of a group
    • Standard 4: Displays effective interpersonal communication skills[/standard

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