How the Supreme Court Affects the Lives of Teens
The Supreme Court, the highest court in the U.S., examines federal and state statutes and executive actions to determine whether they conform to the U.S. Constitution. Since its beginnings, the Supreme Court has ruled on cases that support, and sometimes challenge or broadly interpret, parts of the Constitution. In this lesson, students explore the impact of historic and recent Supreme Court decisions and issues on their lives.
Estimated class time: 3-4 classroom periods
the lesson, students should have background (provided by the teacher
or through student research) on the structure and function of the Supreme
Court and the federal court system, and the U.S. Constitution.
1) Invite students to discuss the significance of the Supreme Court. Ask: What role does the Supreme Court hold for citizens? Why is the Supreme Court necessary? Explain and discuss. How does the Supreme Court influence your lives as adolescents?
2) Instruct students to read the following printout that introduces students to the goals of the Supreme Court.
3) Invite students to discuss their understanding of the relationship between the Supreme Court and the Constitution. Have students consider the challenges this interconnectedness might present, given the Constitution's interpretive nature and individuals' perception of rights and freedom. Students can use the Core Democratic Values printout to consider factors, other than constitutional tenets, that could influence the Supreme Court's decisions (also consider the values and beliefs of a time period, moral issues and attitudes, etc.).
4) Have students brainstorm Supreme Court decisions that significantly challenged, supported, or altered constitutional tenets. Distribute Important Cases in Supreme Court handout or have students locate historic cases from the extensive list on the Supreme Court Collection Web site.
Instruct the students to review several of the cases and discuss the balance of the Constitution and individual rights in each one. Ask: Which of these cases retains relevance in present times? How would a different ruling have had an impact on your life?
5) Ask students to read NewsHour Extra story, The Big Nine, about the upcoming Supreme Court docket.
6) Divide students
into teams of three and have each team select an issue. Tell students
they can suggest their own topic or choose between the following:
Have students assume the roles of policy experts, legal advisors, constitutional scholars, judges, advocates, etc., representing their points of view on a show such as the NewsHour. Have one student play the anchor and interview the two other students representing each side of the issue. Remind students that the core of their arguments should center on how the issue and resultant Supreme Court ruling would affect adolescents. Or, have one student write the arguments for one side, one write the argument for the other side, and one student write a decision reviewing the issues and laying out the reasons for choosing one argument.
After the debate, allow students time to debrief and discuss issues Supreme Court justices must consider when ruling on a case, factors that play a role in the decision, and whether it is possible for all individuals' rights and freedoms to be addressed in a specific ruling.
Newshour Extra: The Big Nine
Newshour Extra: School and Religion
Newshour: Supreme Court Preview
Court of the United States
United States Federal Courts (visual of the court system)
for Civics and Government
II A. What is the
American idea of constitutional government?
II D. What values
and principles are basic to American constitutional democracy?
III D. What is the
place of law in the American constitutional system?
Author Michele Israel has been an educator for over 20 years. Working
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