When National Security Trumps Individual Rights

On December 18, 1944, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down one of its most controversial decisions when it upheld the government’s decision to intern all persons of Japanese ancestry (both alien and nonalien) on the grounds of national security. Over two-thirds of the Japanese in America were citizens and the internment took away their constitutional rights. In this lesson, students evaluate the consequences of past events and decisions related to the Supreme Court case Korematsu v. United States (1944). They consider the challenges involved when trying to balance civil liberties and national security during threatening times and reflect on the lessons learned about civil liberties from the justices in the Korematsu case.

Provide for the General Welfare – Interstate Highway and Defense Act

In the Constitution, Congress is charged with providing for the general welfare of the country’s
citizens. Historically, this has meant improving transportation, promoting agriculture
and industry, protecting health and the environment and seeking ways to solve social and
economic problems. In 1956, Congress passed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, popularly known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, authorizing federal funding for the extension and
construction of a robust network of interstate highways. This project was one of the largest public
works in U.S. history establishing key transportation infrastructure that impacted lives of all
Americans — changing communities, access and economic possibilities and also providing key
routes for evacuating urban centers — a critical national defense issue in the Cold War era.
Analyzing primary source material, students discuss the origins and reasons for the National
Interstate and Defense Highways Act. Then, they work with historical and contemporary maps
as they consider the impact this important congressionally funded project. While intended for 8th
grade students, the lesson can be adapted for other grade levels.

Rights at Risk in Wartime

The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, stunned the nation. As commander-in-chief, President George W. Bush responded quickly but soon all three branches of government would be embroiled in the struggle to balance national security with the protection of individual liberties amid a war on terror. This lesson plan is based on the Annenberg Classroom video “Habeas Corpus: The Guantanamo Cases.” The four cases are examples of how the Supreme Court, the president and Congress fought to balance national security and civil liberties during the war on terror. At the heart of each case was the constitutional right of habeas corpus, the right to have one’s detention or imprisonment reviewed in court.

Grades 11, 12, 9, 10
Foundations of Democracy
Lesson Plans

You Can’t Say That: Right to Know vs. Security Risk

Explain to students that tensions between the press and the military have always existed, as the goals of each group are often in conflict. Reporters want information to flow freely, while the military guards national security interests. The debate over how to balance these competing interests continues today.

Grades 11, 12, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
Rights and Responsibilities
Lesson Plans

Korematsu and Civil Liberties

This documentary explores the landmark case Korematsu v. U.S. (1944) concerning the constitutionality of presidential executive order 9066 during World War II that gave the U.S. military the power to ban thousands of American citizens of Japanese ancestry from areas considered important to national security. A PDF lesson plan accompanies this video.

Grades 10, 11, 12, 8, 9
Judicial Branch/Supreme Court
Closed Captions

A Conversation on the Importance of the Japanese Internment Cases

Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony M. Kennedy discuss two landmark cases, Korematsu v. U.S. and Hirabayashi v. U.S., in which the Supreme Court tried to strike a balance between individual rights and national security during wartime. The cases stem from President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1942 executive order that mandated the relocation of Japanese and Japanese Americans to internment camps. This video complements the documentary Korematsu and Civil Liberties.

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

Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights is on permanent display at the National Archives in Washington, DC. This original joint resolution of Congress proposed 12 amendments to the United States Constitution, but only 10 were ratified. Added to the Constitution in 1791 as the first 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights explicitly protected freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, and of assembly, among many other rights.

Grades 6-12, 4, 5
Rights and Responsibilities
Primary Sources

Teaching Six Big Ideas in the Constitution

This lesson engages students in a study of the Constitution to learn the significance of “Six Big Ideas” contained in it. Students analyze the text of the Constitution in a variety of ways, examine primary sources to identify their relationship to its central ideas, and debate the core constitutional principles as they relate to today’s political issues. (Duration: 45-minute segments, up to 4.5 hours.)

Grades 8, 9-12
Federal Government
Lesson Plans

Voices of History

Voices of History is a collection of eight Bill of Rights Institute curriculum resources including Being An American, Preserving the Bill of Rights, Founders and the Constitution, Supreme Court DBQs, Liberty and Security in Modern Times, Religious Liberty: An American Experiment, and Heroes and Villains. Teachers will have free access to each resources’ lessons plans and handouts.

Grades 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11
Foundations of Democracy
Books