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.

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.

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.

Grade 9-12 The Judiciary Act of 1789

The purpose of this lesson is to teach students about the significance of the Judiciary Act of 1789 in establishing a federal judiciary, and the power of judicial review as outlined by the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Case, Marbury v. Madison (1803). By the conclusion of this lesson, students will understand the key provisions of the Judiciary Act of 1789 and the structure of the federal judiciary, as well as the power of judicial review.

Grades 9-12
Judicial Branch/Supreme Court
Lesson Plans

The Supreme Court: Balancing the Branches

K-12 Lessons, The Supreme Court

The nine, lifetime-appointed justices on the Supreme Court play a huge role in our lives through interpreting the application of laws passed by the United States Congress and state legislatures. The Share My Lesson team has curated a collection of free lesson plans and activities to support teachers in educating their students about the structure and role of the Supreme Court.

Grades K-12
Judicial Branch/Supreme Court
Lesson Plans

An Independent Judiciary: Cherokee Nation v. Georgia and Cooper v. Aaron

This documentary explores the Supreme Court cases Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831) and Cooper v. Aaron (1958) that defined our understanding of the role of the judiciary. In Cherokee Nation, the Supreme Court ruled it lacked the jurisdiction to review the claims of an Indian nation in the U.S. In Cooper v. Aaron, the Court affirmed that its interpretation of the Constitution was the “supreme law of the land” and that states were bound by its decisions. A PDF lesson guide is provided.

Grades 8, 9-12
Judicial Branch/Supreme Court
Closed Captions

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?

Grade 6-8 Article III, The Supreme Court

The purpose of this lesson is to assist student understanding of the U.S. Supreme Court created under the Constitution. Through a document exploration and story-telling activity, students will understand the role of the Supreme Court in our constitutional system of government. Students will also explore how the Court’s role has evolved over time by looking to a number of key Supreme Court decisions.

Grades 6, 7, 8
Judicial Branch/Supreme Court
Lesson Plans