Distance learning activities become civics for civic engagement when federal judges bring the rule of law, separation of powers, judicial independence, and jury service into students’ daily life. Student voice is incorporated into every activity. Teachers and students can explore the pillars of literacy: rule of law, separation of powers, and judicial independence. With the guidance of federal judges and attorney volunteers in virtual court hearings, students learn and practice civil discourse skills as the foundation of effective dispute resolution in the law and in life.
Federal Courts in History: United States v. Nixon
Dealing with the principle of separation of powers, this lesson focuses on the question of whether or not the Constitution’s separation of powers intended to create an absolute executive privilege.
Court Shorts: Separation of Powers
In a five-minute video, federal judges offer insights into their thinking about the separation of powers and describe how healthy tensions among the branches have a stabilizing effect on democracy. The judges also share their respect for and commitment to this founding principle, which has an impact on everyday American life.
The Role of the Courts (Separation of Powers)
In these five short videos, federal judges explain separation of powers and the roles of the three branches of government as well as landmark cases related to separation of powers. Judges also discuss our government’s system of checks and balances, and why it’s important to respect the nation’s rule of law and the jurisdiction of the courts.
Congress and the Separation of Powers – Virtual Exhibit
Why does the U.S. Constitution separate the government into three branches? At the nation’s founding, the Constitution’s framers understood that executive, legislative, and judicial responsibilities differed, and they provided for these distinct functions. They also believed that concentrating authority in one body would result in tyranny. They therefore divided the government into legislative, executive, and judicial branches, so that no single part would become too strong, and empowered each to limit or “check” the powers of the others. This exhibit examines Congress’s unique role and the ways in which it can balance or dynamically shape and challenge the powers of two other branches.
Presidency on Trial: Assessing the Limits of Presidential Power
As they framed the Constitution, many of the Founding Fathers were wary of a powerful chief executive who might overshadow the legislative branch. By constructing the separation of powers within the federal government with a system of checks and balances, the Framers sought to limit the power of the president. Students will investigate not only the formal checks as laid out in the Constitution, but also explore the informal checks on presidential power that have emerged in the modern era. Free registration required to access lesson plan.
Habeas Corpus: The Guantanamo Cases
One of our oldest human rights, habeas corpus safeguards individual freedom by preventing unlawful or arbitrary imprisonment. This documentary examines habeas corpus and the separation of powers in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks as the Supreme Court tried to strike a balance between the president’s duty to protect the nation and the constitutional protection of civil liberties in four major Guantanamo Bay cases: Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, Rasul v. Bush, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld and Boumediene v. Bush.
Closed captions available in English and Spanish.
Justice Stephen Breyer on the Constitution
Connecting the Separate Powers
In this lesson, students will gain an understanding of the separation of powers using role playing and discussion. Students will identify which parts of the Constitution provide for the branches of our government, and will categorize public officials into one of these three branches.
Court Shorts: Jury Service, Hands-on Justice
Jury service is an example of hands-on participation in democracy. In a five-minute video, 11 federal judges talk about jury service as an opportunity for citizens to be part of the judicial process that has an impact on daily life. The video, which deals with Constitutional principles and the practicalities of jury service, is part of the Court Shorts video series that includes installments on the rule of law and separation of powers.