PLAN: ADVICE AND CONSENT - THE SENATE CONSIDERS THE PRESIDENT'S SUPREME COURT
Greg Timmons, teacher and executive director of The Constitution Project in Portland,
Civics, Current Events, Government, Social Studies
2 to 3 class periods
Objectives: students will
the system of Separation of Powers/Checks and Balances
the process for selecting and confirming a Supreme Court Justice and how participation
by the other two branches helps maintain the balance of power
through past examples and upcoming cases how Supreme Court decisions can greatly
impact the lives of ordinary citizens
the proper questioning technique for the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings with
Supreme Court nominees
a series of questions for nominees on upcoming cases to be heard before the Supreme
the recent retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, President Bush is in an
historic position to change the balance of the Supreme Court. On issues of church
and state, affirmative action and abortion, Justice O'Connor has been the crucial
and unpredictable swing vote. This lesson has students examine different aspects
of the balance of power among the three branches and the process of judicial nomination
and confirmation: 1) how the Supreme Court (and the entire judiciary) are an important
part of the system of checks and balances; 2) how the process for selecting members
to the judiciary is also a fundamental part of the separation of powers/checks
and balances in the U.S. Constitution; 3) the impact of Court decisions on all
citizens and the importance of knowing the constitutional and ideological position
of a judicial nominee by developing appropriate questions.
lesson is divided into three steps. These can be modified at the teacher's discretion
and the three steps can be presented independently. There is also a list of resources,
and vocabulary words that are used frequently during the Judicial Committee hearings
which students should know before the activities are conducted.
to National Standards
Needed (in printer-friendly PDF format)
I: Declare Your Powers
first activity helps students understand the dynamics of separation of powers/checks
and balances and how the factors interplay with current issues. The chart depicting
the separation of powers/checks and balances can be passed out as homework the
day before the activity starts.
1. Divide students into three large
groups. Then have each group separate into smaller groups of two or three. Pass
out Handout 1: Declare Your Powers and have students
review the directions and the chart in their small groups.
students back into the three large groups. Have them move together in their groups
so that there is space between each group. Designate each group to be one of the
three branches of government.
3. Review the following circumstances
with the class asking the student groups to raise their hands when they hear a
circumstance where their branch has power to act. Then ask the other two groups
to determine if they have the power to "check" the branch exercising their power
and what power would they exercise to check that branch. (Check answer
key for results)
A. Homeland Security officials have been ordered to open suspicious packages they
believe might be from terrorists.
B. A bill recently passed to allow citizens
to choose their own health care plan under Medicare.
C. The United States
has signed a peace treaty with Iran.
D. A law, recently passed in a state
legislature banning gay marriages, is being challenged as unconstitutional.
E. A bill is passed outlawing American citizens from making contributions to Middle
East charitable organizations.
F. A replacement suggestion for the position
of Attorney General has been given to Congress.
G. A recent law closing a
tax reduction for U.S. companies establishing off shore companies is ruled constitutional...
H. A recent bill to increase funding for education was passed again after
it was rejected.
I. A health care insurance company has been ordered to pay
for additional treatment requested by a patient.
II - The process for selecting and confirming a Supreme Court Justice
1. In this activity students will review the process of selecting justices to
the Supreme Court. Distribute Handout 2: Supreme
Court Confirmation Flow Chart to students and review the Supreme Court Confirmation
2. Then have students work in pairs or trios to complete the
chart on Handout 2 that shows the steps a candidate must go through in order to
be confirmed. This is primarily a reading-comprehension exercise, so it might
be a good idea to work with students to make sure they identify all the steps
and provide adequate descriptions of the process. Refer to the answer
key for results. This activity could be done as homework.
III: Nominating and confirming Justices to the Supreme Court
of her pivotal role as a swing vote in a number of decisions, the replacing of
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor could change the direction and future of the Supreme
Court. President Bush came into office with a groundswell of support for making
changes on the Court. Many conservative interest groups, the base of the President's
support, have long complained that the Court has gradually taken an activist role
in its decisions "making law" rather than interpreting it. In their
view, the 2004 election of George W. Bush was a mandate to make changes on the
Court should the opportunity arise. The impending retirement of Justice O'Connor
has provided that opportunity.
Divide the class into small groups of three to four students.
Student Handout "Recent Supreme Court Decisions" and assign each group
to review one of the past Supreme Court cases and answer the review questions.
Then have several groups briefly present their findings to the class. The point
to make here is that Supreme Court decisions can have an impact on students' lives.
This activity should take about 10 minutes.
3. Next, distribute student handout
"Candidate Questions." This activity has two parts, one that looks briefly
at upcoming Supreme Court cases for next session and the other an activity to
have students develop potential questions to ask the nominee who will appear before
the Senate Judiciary Committee.
4. Have students review the summaries of upcoming
cases for the next Supreme Court session beginning in October and discuss the
questions that follow. Answer any questions they might have on the details and
complexities of these cases.
5. Next review the directions for the Candidate
Questions section. Have them develop 5 questions for the Senate judiciary Committee
to ask the nominee.
6. Debrief the entire activity with a discussion on how
they think the current nominee might answer these questions and rule on these
Students can participate in a Senate
Judiciary Committee Simulation and conduct their own hearings evaluating one
of the nominees to the Supreme Court. Click here.
1. Students can find further examples of Separation of Powers/Checks and Balances
by reviewing the newspaper for articles that feature one or more of the branches
in action. They can clip the articles, write a summary and identify which branch
is exercising power and what branch might "check" that power.
The President's Cabinet will have some new people for his second term. Students
can use their Confirmation Flow Charts to follow the process in selecting possible
replacements to the Cabinet. As a class, they could examine some of the nominees
and conduct their own confirmation process. A good source for this activity would
be "The Federal Confirmation Process: Choosing the Right Person for the Job,"
by Lisa Prososki from the NewsHour Extra Web site http://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/teachers/lessonplans/socialstudies/confirm_process.html
students to get a better understanding of the partisan politics surrounding the
nomination process, students can conduct their own selection for Cabinet or Supreme
Court nominees. Additional information on the two opposing viewpoints can be found
at the Alliance for Justice http://www.allianceforjustice.org/
and The Committee for Justice http://committeeforjustice.org/index.shtml.
to National Standards
McRel K-12 Standards Addressed:
5: Understands the major characteristics of systems of shared powers and of parliamentary
20: Understands the roles of political parties, campaigns, elections, and
associations and groups in American politics
7: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of
Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes
Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual
Working with Others
Standard 1: Contributes to the
overall effort of a group
Standard 4: Displays effective interpersonal communication
the Author Greg Timmons is a teacher, curriculum writer and Executive Director
of The Constitution Project in Portland, Oregon He has taught middle school and
secondary Social Studies for over 30 years, wrote lessons and directed institutes
on U.S. Constitution related issues. He is a member of the Board of Directors of
the Oregon Council for the Social studies.
find out more about opportunities to contribute to this site, contact Leah Clapman at firstname.lastname@example.org.