Article III of the Constitution establishes the judicial branch of the national government, which is responsible for interpreting the laws. At the highest level, the judicial branch is led by the U.S. Supreme Court, which consists of nine Justices. In the federal system, the lower courts consist of the district courts and the courts of appeals. Federal courts—including the Supreme Court—exercise the power of judicial review. This power gives courts the authority to rule on the constitutionality of laws passed (and actions taken) by the elected branches. The Constitution also promotes the principle of judicial independence—granting federal judges life tenure (meaning that they serve until they die, resign, or are impeached and removed from office). This module will examine the judicial branch and its powers.
Article II of the Constitution establishes the executive branch of the national government, headed by a single President. Article II outlines the method for electing the President, the scope of the President’s powers and duties, and the process of removing one from office. The President’s primary responsibility is to carry out the executive branch’s core function—namely, enforcing the nation’s laws. From the debates over how to structure the Presidency at the Constitutional Convention to modern debates over executive orders, this module will explore the important role of the President in our constitutional system.
When crafting the Constitution, one of the central concerns of the Founding generation was how best to control government power. With the new Constitution, the Framers looked to strike an important balance—creating a new national government that was more powerful than the one that came before it while still protecting the American people’s most cherished liberties. They settled on a national government with defined but limited powers. Instead of placing authority in the hands of a single person (like a king), a small group of people (like an aristocracy), or even the whole people (like a direct democracy), the Framers divided power in two ways. At the national level, the Framers divided power between the three branches of government—the legislative branch, the executive branch and the judicial branch. This process of dividing power between different branches of government is called the separation of powers. From there, the Framers further divided power between the national government and the states under a system known as federalism. In this module, students will explore the key functions of the different parts of government and the role that the Constitution plays in controlling government power.
This lesson explores why five U.S. presidents were hated by groups of Americans, including Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon. Students will explore materials from C-SPAN’s Presidential Survey and engage in a choice board activity. The lesson culminates with students reflecting on how presidents have been criticized historically and in contemporary times and offers two extension activities.
This comprehensive, short-form video series explains the text, history, and relevance of the United States Constitution, Bill of Rights, and additional amendments. The videos are assignable and end with call-to-action questions, prompting learners to further explore the topics covered in the video through a modern lens. Click on each category to see its related videos, and click on the video thumbnail to watch the full clip. You can also autoplay each category’s videos using YouTube playlists. The series was developed in partnership with the Center for Civic Education, and with the contributions of constitutional scholar Linda R. Monk, JD.
Constitution 101 is a 15-unit asynchronous, semester-long curriculum that provides students with a basic understanding of the Constitution’s text, history, structure, and caselaw. Drawing on primary source documents from our new, curated online Founders’ Library—containing over 170 historical texts and over 70 landmark Supreme Court cases selected by leading experts of different perspectives—students will study the historical and philosophical foundations of America’s founding principles from a range of diverse voices The curriculum guides students to think like constitutional lawyers—cultivating the skills necessary to analyze all sides of constitutional questions. Each module includes detailed materials for classroom educators, as well as opportunities for guided discovery and practice and tools to check for understanding.
The United States charges nearly 8,000 people with being good at relationships. These are our diplomats, or Foreign Service Officers. These are the people who make us look good, make sure the world gives us what we want and need and try to keep tensions at a minimum. To try to understand how this nuanced job actually works, we speak with Alison Mann, Public Historian at the National Museum of American Diplomacy and Naima Green-Riley, soon-to-be professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton and former diplomat.
If you want to learn about economic sanctions, which are the most common of the president’s emergency powers, and one non-conflict way to exert pressure on a foreign power, check out our episode on emergency powers. You’ll also learn about certain military powers the president has under an emergency declaration. Emergency powers are designed for when plans need to change, and fast, by allowing the president to override certain Constitutional provisions in a time of crisis. But in the last century, national emergencies have gone from a rarity to a tool that presidents use dozens of times while in office. We talk about what a president can (and cannot) do during a state of emergency, and how Congress has tried to put checks on that power, with help from Kim Lane Scheppele, author of Law in a Time of Emergency.
Step inside the White House Situation Room, as you take on the role of president of the United States and make foreign policy decisions with the support of your National Security Council. In Convene the Council, you will address international crises through strategic action, engage with members of your National Security Council, weigh the pros and cons of various policy options, delegate action to appropriate government agencies and departments, and work to improve core metrics of U.S. prosperity, values, security, and world health.
Help keep your students informed about the Ukraine conflict with this collection of videos. Then have your students reflect on each video clip they watch with our Primary Source Current Event Video Analysis Handout.