The 14th Amendment wrote the Declaration of Independence’s promise of freedom and equality into the Constitution. Ratified after the Civil War, this amendment transformed the Constitution forever and is at the core of a period that many scholars refer to as our nation’s “Second Founding.” Even so, the 14th Amendment remains the focus of many of today’s most important constitutional debates (and Supreme Court cases). In many ways, the history of the modern Supreme Court is largely a history of modern-day battles over the 14th Amendment’s meaning. So many of the constitutional cases that Americans care about today turn on the 14th Amendment. Learning objectives: Explain why the 14th Amendment was added to the Constitution; identify the core principles in the 14th Amendment’s clauses; summarize how the Supreme Court has interpreted the meaning of the 14th Amendment; evaluate the effect of the 14th Amendment on liberty and equality.
Article III of the Constitution establishes the judicial branch of the national government, which is responsible for interpreting the laws. At the highest level, the judicial branch is led by the U.S. Supreme Court, which consists of nine Justices. In the federal system, the lower courts consist of the district courts and the courts of appeals. Federal courts—including the Supreme Court—exercise the power of judicial review. This power gives courts the authority to rule on the constitutionality of laws passed (and actions taken) by the elected branches. The Constitution also promotes the principle of judicial independence—granting federal judges life tenure (meaning that they serve until they die, resign, or are impeached and removed from office). This module will examine the judicial branch and its powers.
LegalTimelines.org is an interactive, educational site designed to teach middle and high school students about the historical evolution of U.S. laws on important contemporary legal issues. The site currently features three timelines that take students through the legal history of suffrage, federalism, and the legal rights of the accused. Each timeline is rich with engaging
George Washington and the Pursuit of Religious Freedom is based on a 15-minute film that covers religion in early America, the defeat of the British Empire, and the steps leading up to the passing of the Bill of Rights in 1791. Accompanying resources, such as an interactive map and an interactive timeline investigate the history of religion in early America, Washington’s interactions with various religious groups, and his role in securing religious freedom. Teacher resources include graphic organizers, vocabulary sheets, and additional information to guide inquiry.
This lesson explores why five U.S. presidents were hated by groups of Americans, including Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon. Students will explore materials from C-SPAN’s Presidential Survey and engage in a choice board activity. The lesson culminates with students reflecting on how presidents have been criticized historically and in contemporary times and offers two extension activities.
This lesson plan opens with reflective questions that ask students to consider their prior knowledge of Supreme Court justices and how many have been women. Students then watch, analyze, and respond to an introductory video that details the impetus for law professor Renee Knake Jefferson’s co-authoring of “Shortlisted: Women in the Shadows of the Supreme Court.” Next, students explore two clips that include President Richard Nixon’s shortlisting of two women for the Supreme Court and how gender diversity on the U.S. Supreme and state courts compare to courts in other democracies. Students then engage in a choice board exploration activity, where they choose to study four of nine different topics. The lesson concludes with a reflective prompt and offers an optional extension activity.
Throughout history, U.S. presidents have carved out their relationships with the press. In this lesson, students will hear from author and historian Harold Holzer as he discusses how several presidents, from George Washington to Donald Trump, navigated their interactions with the media and implemented strategies to communicate with the press, some of which are still used today.
The 1st Amendment to the Constitution provides for freedoms: freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. This lesson has students examine the concepts of these freedoms through a variety of perspectives and explore current examples through video-based resources. This lesson works well in classes with one-to-one devices or could be adapted to fit a flipped classroom.
When crafting the Constitution, one of the central concerns of the Founding generation was how best to control government power. With the new Constitution, the Framers looked to strike an important balance—creating a new national government that was more powerful than the one that came before it while still protecting the American people’s most cherished liberties. They settled on a national government with defined but limited powers. Instead of placing authority in the hands of a single person (like a king), a small group of people (like an aristocracy), or even the whole people (like a direct democracy), the Framers divided power in two ways. At the national level, the Framers divided power between the three branches of government—the legislative branch, the executive branch and the judicial branch. This process of dividing power between different branches of government is called the separation of powers. From there, the Framers further divided power between the national government and the states under a system known as federalism. In this module, students will explore the key functions of the different parts of government and the role that the Constitution plays in controlling government power.
This first module in the Constitution 101 curriculum introduces you to the Constitution’s text and to the skills necessary to engage in constitutional conversations. As you explore the Constitution throughout this course, it’s essential to separate your constitutional views from your political views and, in turn, to think about how the Constitution defines or limits the powers of the government. That is how constitutional lawyers, scholars, and judges read, interpret, and apply the Constitution.