What is the Judicial Branch?

This lesson exposes students to the judicial branch and the power of judicial review. They will read about an actual Supreme Court case, Torcaso v. Watkins, to see how the judicial branch used its power of judicial review to strike down an unconstitutional state law.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit)
  • Subject: Judicial Branch/Supreme Court
  • Grades: K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

What Makes a Good Judge?

This lesson focuses on the costs and benefits of various judicial selection methods. Students will list characteristics they think essential or valuable to being a good judge, and then see which system of judicial selection – appointment, merit, or election – obtains the highest quality judges. In discussing each method, students will understand the tradeoffs between accountability and independence in judicial selection.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans
  • Subject: Judicial Branch/Supreme Court
  • Grades: 6, 7, 8

The Supreme Court: The Judicial Power of the United States

This lesson provides an introduction to the Supreme Court. Students will learn basic facts about the Supreme Court by examining the United States Constitution and one of the landmark cases decided by that court. The lesson is designed to help students understand how the Supreme Court operates.

The federal judiciary, which includes the Supreme Court as well as the district and circuit courts, is one of three branches of the federal government. The judiciary has played a key role in American history and remains a powerful voice in resolving contemporary controversies. The first governing document of this nation, the Articles of Confederation, gave Congress certain judicial powers, but did not establish a distinct federal court system.

  • Resource Type: Essays, Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Research (Digests of Primary Sources)
  • Subject: Judicial Branch/Supreme Court
  • Grades: 6, 7, 8

John Marshall, Marbury v. Madison and Judicial Review—How the Court Became Supreme

If James Madison was the “father” of the Constitution” John Marshall was the “father of the Supreme Court”—almost single-handedly clarifying its powers. This new lesson is designed to help students understand Marshall’s brilliant strategy in issuing his decision on Marbury v. Madison, the significance of the concept of judicial review, and the language of this watershed case.

  • Resource Type: Essays, Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit)
  • Subject: Judicial Branch/Supreme Court
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

Just the Facts: The Judicial Branch and the Law

This lesson presents facts about Article III of the Constitution and the federal courts, as well as information about Supreme Court interpretations related to some of the rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. The lesson, which can be used to introduce or review information about the judicial branch, allows students to become teachers of their peers. Be sure to give students some time to understand their facts and consider the best way to teach them.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit)
  • Subject: Judicial Branch/Supreme Court
  • Grades: 5, 6, 7, 8

The Constitutional Convention: Should Judges Judge Laws?

History is the chronicle of choices made by actors/agents/protagonists in specific contexts. This simulation places students at the Constitutional Convention and asks them to engage with a problematic question: Who should have the final say in deciding whether a law or executive action is constitutional? Students will explore this in theoretical, practical, and political contexts. If one branch has the final say, does that negate the separation of powers? But if no branch has the final say, how are inter-branch disputes to be settled? If unelected justices of the Supreme Court can nullify legislative and executive measures, does that fly in the face of popular sovereignty? On the other hand, if constitutional interpretation is left to “the people,” how might that work, and might that lead to political turmoil?

  • Resource Type: Interactives, Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources
  • Subject: Judicial Branch/Supreme Court
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

The Judical Nomination Process

What is the nomination process for Supreme Court justices and federal judges? Find out in a multimedia package of educational resources geared to high school students, their teachers, and interested adults. What do judges promise in the judicial oath of office? What is the role of justices and judges? What kinds of information are nominees asked to share during the nomination process? What do judges, themselves, say about what it means to be impartial?

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources
  • Subject: Judicial Branch/Supreme Court
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

A Conversation on Judicial Independence

Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Anthony M. Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor and high school students discuss why an independent judiciary is necessary and how Article III, Section1, in the Constitution safeguards the role of judges. This video complements the documentary An Independent Judiciary: Cherokee Nation v. Georgia and Cooper v. Aaron.

  • Resource Type: Closed Captions, Translated Materials, Video
  • Subject: Judicial Branch/Supreme Court
  • Grades: 8, 9, 10, 11, 12