Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions

Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions is a national initiative of the federal courts that brings high school and college students into federal courthouses for legal proceedings that stem from situations in which law-abiding young people can find themselves. These court hearings (not mock trials) are realistic simulations that showcase jury deliberations in which all students and learning styles participate, using civil discourse skills. This activity includes: Reality Check Quiz and Discussion Starter; Civil Discourse Skill Building; Courtroom Simulation; and Reality Check Discussion.

Jury Selection on Trial: Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Co.

If the constitutional guarantee of a fair trial is to be realized, the process used for selecting jurors must also be fair. Before Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Co., the constitutional principle of equal protection under the law had been applied to federal jury selection practices in criminal trials but not in civil trials. In this lesson, students learn about jury selection and how the role and responsibilities of government in civil and criminal jury trials are viewed by the Supreme Court.

Bill of Rights Overview

The Bill of Rights is the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. These amendments guarantee essential rights and civil liberties, such as the freedom of religion, the right to free speech, the right to bear arms, trial by jury, and more, as well as reserving rights to the people and the states. After the Constitutional Convention, the absence of a bill of rights emerged as a central part of the ratification debates. Anti-Federalists, who opposed ratification, pointed to the missing bill of rights as a fatal flaw. Several states ratified the Constitution on the condition that a bill of rights be promptly added. Pop over to the National Constitution Center’s learning module to discover more!

Gideon v. Wainwright (1963)

Does the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel in criminal cases extend to defendants in state courts, even in cases in which the death penalty is not at issue?

This case summary provides teachers with everything they need to teach about Gideon v. Wainwright (1963). It contains background information in the form of summaries and important vocabulary at three different reading levels, as well a review of relevant legal concepts, diagram of how the case moved through the court system, and summary of the decision. This resource also includes nine classroom-ready activities that teach about the case using interactive methods.

Grades 7-12
Judicial Branch/Supreme Court
ESL Appropriate

Salem Witch Trials

This lesson centers around a short play in which the accused person is given an obviously unfair trial. Students are asked to discuss why they think the trial is unfair, and propose measures to rectify the problems they found. It leads naturally into a discussion of why we have due process guarantees under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Japanese American Internment

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which gave the military broad powers to ban any citizen from a coastal area stretching from Washington state to California and extending inland into southern Arizona. For the next four years, more than 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry—77,000 of them American citizens—were removed from this area and incarcerated indefinitely without criminal charges or trial. Forty-six years and eight presidents later, on August 10, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 into law.

Law-Abidingness: Reading Guide for “A Jury of Her Peers”

Does our obligation to uphold the law admit of exceptions? Debate the elementary civic virtue of law-abidingness and the appropriateness of civil disobedience as editors Amy A. Kass, Leon R. Kass, and Diana Schaub discuss Susan Glaspell’s story with Christopher DeMuth. Includes discussion guide and model conversation. Common Core-aligned.