The Judicial Branch

Students will learn about the federal and state courts and what they do. They will explore the courts’ role in fairly settling disputes and administering justice, and the unique role of the U.S. Supreme Court in interpreting the U.S. Constitution.

Check out this quick video on the Judicial Branch on YouTube!

In the Courts

Our Judicial Branch has a big job! Do you think you have what it takes to be a judge and get the job done? 

The "Supreme" in Supreme Decision

After playing "Supreme Decision" with your class, use this lesson to reinforce the concepts students learned by playing the game.  In this lesson, students compare Ben Brewer’s fictional case in “Supreme Decision” with a real-life case involving a student.  They also look at a variety of historic landmark cases to understand why precedents and judicial review are important in peoples’ everyday lives.

This lesson assumes your class has already played "Supreme Decision."

Supreme Interpreters

What does it mean to interpret the Constitution? Why is interpretation necessary? Who gets to do it? In this WebQuest, students explore the answers to these questions and more. Using examples from the First and Eighth Amendments, students try their own hand at interpreting sticky situations—and compare their findings to actual Supreme Court opinions.

Supreme Court Nominations

This lesson teaches the fundamentals of Supreme Court Justice nominations and helps students understand the politics behind the nominations. It challenges students to cut through the politics and compare nominees’ judicial philosophies and includes an optional extension for students to research and analyze the controversial nominations and confirmation processes of Robert Bork, Harriet Miers, Clarence Thomas, and Merrick Garland.

Got a 1:1 classroom? Download fillable PDFs of this lesson's materials below!

McCulloch v. Maryland

Students learn about the landmark case McCulloch v. Maryland, in which the Supreme Court clarified what kinds of actions Congress can take under the “necessary and proper” clause. Students find out what events led to this case, look at some examples of what “necessary and proper” could include, and examine the relationship between state and federal power under the Supremacy Clause.

Interpreting the Constitution

Students learn that you can't take constitutional language at face value. Those phrases we read in the Bill of Rights, such as "cruel and unusual punishment" or being a "witness" against yourself, have specialized meaning based on years of interpretation by the Supreme Court.  Students analyze real-life cases interpreting the 8th and 5th amendments to see whether they interpret the Bill of Rights the same way the Supreme Court did... and discover how tricky interpreting the Constitution really is!

Judges: Playing Fair

This mini-lesson takes a look at the role of fair and impartial courts in American life. Students learn about how judges are selected and held accountable. It also looks at how judges focus on the facts in order to keep things fair. This resource is accompanied by a short video from the Informed Voters Project.  

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