NewsHour Extra Feature Stories
NewsHour Extra features stories can help students identify and interpret
key issues in current events. This activity anticipates one class period,
but the follow-up essay might be assigned as homework, or in another period.
Warm Up: Use
initiating questions to introduce the topic and find out how much your
Have students read NewsHour Extra's feature story and answer the questions
on the reading comprehension handout.
Use discussion questions to encourage students to think about how the
issues outlined in the story affect their lives and express and debate
can write an 500-word editorial on the topic expressing their views and
send it to NewsHour Extra [email@example.com]
for possible publication.
Students are graded on their answers to reading comprehension questions
and/or their editorial.
Death Penalty Among Cases to Be Heard in New Supreme Court Term, 10/04/04
1. What does the
Supreme Court do?What are some important Supreme Court decisions?
2. How might a Supreme Court decision affect you, your family or friends?
Questions: (click here for printout)
1. What are some cases coming before the Supreme Court this term?
The Supreme Court
begins its new session this week with a full rundown of controversial
cases to consider, including teens and the death penalty, medical marijuana,
and the use of drug sniffing dogs during traffic stops.
What decision will the Supreme Court revisit?
In considering the juvenile death penalty, the Supreme Court will revisit
its own 1988 ruling that executing anyone under the age of 16 was unconstitutional.
That ruling did not extend to older juveniles between the ages of 16
2. What case sparked
the most recent juvenile death penalty debate?
In 1986, 17-year-old
Christopher Simmons was accused of raping and killing a woman in Missouri.
A lower court in the state convicted Simmons and sentenced him to death.
In 2003, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned Simmons' sentence, ruling
that the execution of 16- and 17-year-old murderers was unconstitutional.
What questions will the Supreme Court consider when deciding if the
juvenile death penalty is constitutional?
As part of the review, the Supreme Court justices will focus on several
key questions: Does the 8th Amendment of the Constitution that bars
"cruel and unusual" punishment prevent the execution of juveniles?
Does the fact that most states now bar the execution of juveniles, mean
that the country as a whole is moving away from the juvenile death penalty?
If so, would the practice qualify as "unusual" and therefore
compel the High Court to outlaw it?
3. What countries
currently allow the execution of juvenile offenders?
the judges might consider is whether the views of the international
community should have an impact on the United States. According to the
human rights group Amnesty International, since 2000 the only countries,
besides the United States, to execute juvenile offenders were Iran,
Pakistan, China and the Democratic Republic of Congo. China and Pakistan
have since abolished the juvenile death penalty.
4. Which two justices
will be pivotal in the juvenile death penalty decision?
The outcome is
expected to hinge on two judges: Justices O'Connor and Kennedy, whose
centrist views on many issues will play a key role in many of this year's
5. Why is the current
court so historic and unique?
The nine justices
have been together now for more than ten years -- making this the longest
running court since the early 19th century.
(more research might be needed):
1. What do you think
about the juvenile death penalty?
2. Do you think the
death penalty deters people who are thinking of committing a murder?
3. Regardless of whether
you agree with the death penalty, do you think 17-year-olds are old enough
to be held responsible for their actions and treated like adults?
4. Research another
case before the Supreme Court this year. What are the legal questions
raised by the case? How would you rule?
Write a 500-800 word
essay on any of these topics providing clear examples. Send your completed
editorial to NewsHour Extra [firstname.lastname@example.org].
Exceptional essays might be published on our Web site.