Separation of Powers

Instead of placing authority in the hands of one person, like a king, or even a small group of people, the U.S. Constitution divides power. Power is first divided between the national, or federal government, and the state and local government under a system known as Federalism. At the federal level, the Constitution again divides power between the three major branches of our federal government: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial. Discover the battles of the branches in the National Constitution Center’s learning module.

Federalism

“Federalism” is the word used to describe the Constitution’s system of dividing political power between the national government and the states. What is federalism and how does it work? Why did the founders build federalism into our constitutional system and what are the modern debates over federalism today? Explore the National Constitution Center’s Federalism learning module to learn more!

Article III: The Judicial Branch

Article III establishes the judicial branch of government, which is responsible for interpreting the laws. At the highest level, the judicial branch is led by the U.S. Supreme Court, which today consists of nine justices. In the federal system, the lower courts consist of the courts of appeals and the district courts. Learn more about judicial independence and judicial review in the National Constitution Center’s learning module.

The Appointment of Sandra Day O’Connor

The U.S. Constitution grants the President the power to appoint people to a variety of government positions. These appointments require careful thought and consideration since the people can have a great impact on the lives of many Americans during that President’s term. Some appointments need even greater thought and consideration, and those are to the federal judicial system and more importantly, to the Supreme Court of the United States. Justices of the Supreme Court (and other federal courts) serve lifetime appointments. Their rulings as they interpret the Constitution, and other situations as outlined in Article III of the Constitution, can have far-reaching effects for generations. With this awesome power to appoint comes an equally awesome responsibility to make sure that the individuals are the best people for the job. In this lesson, students will examine the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who was also the first female Justice. Students will examine the process by which a President makes the selection and the steps that lead to that person being confirmed by the Senate (or not).

Historic Supreme Court Cases

Students will learn about historic Supreme Court cases and the process of bringing a case to the Supreme Court. They will read arguments and discover the importance of this third branch of government. Students will discover the changes these cases made in the lives of people. From the knowledge they gain, students can determine how the outcome may have affected their lives.

U.S. Supreme Court Decisions and Justices Who Made Them

“Who cares what old people in black robes say?” As an educator you care. The challenge is how do you get your students excited about Article III of the Constitution. Constituting America has organized 90 Supreme Court cases of influential and history-changing decisions in its Constitution Archives. Need a judicial decision on what you are studying? Find it here. Need a Supreme Court ruling on a current event? Find it here. You get the picture. The material you seek is here. Your challenge, should you accept it, is make it come alive to your students.