The Power of One Decision: Brown v. Board of Education

When minority students decided to take their challenge of the “separate but equal” doctrine to the Supreme Court, the 1954 decision handed down by the court in Brown v. Board of Education and enforced by the executive branch, changed their lives and America forever. In this lesson plan, based on the Annenberg Classroom video “A Conversation on the Constitution: Brown v. Board of Education,” students gain insight into decision-making at the Supreme Court, learn about the people behind the case, construct a persuasive argument, and evaluate the significance of Brown v. Board of Education.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans
  • Subject: Judicial Branch/Supreme Court
  • Grades: 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

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

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.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans
  • Subject: Judicial Branch/Supreme Court
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

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.

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

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.

  • Resource Type: Media, Video
  • Subject: History, Judicial Branch/Supreme Court
  • Grades: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Case of Gerry Gault

In this lesson, students will learn about the events that led to the case In re Gault, and will recognize this case’s importance to juvenile rights and juvenile court proceedings. Students will list those parts of the case that they believe were carried out fairly, and those that they believe were unfair to Gault. Students’ concerns about the case are compared to the actual reasons given by the Supreme Court. The lesson leads naturally into a discussion of due process.

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

Right to Counsel

In this lesson, students will look at the various dimensions of right to counsel. They will study how the meaning of this right has evolved over time with reference to specific landmark United States Supreme Court cases. Students will develop lists of reasons why such a right is important to the functioning of the adversary process. The lesson ends with an examination of the role of the criminal attorney.

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

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.

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