Introduction

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death has left the Supreme Court with a vacancy a few weeks before the presidential election. When a vacancy occurs in the Supreme Court, the president is tasked with nominating a candidate, who will then go through public hearings in the Senate, a committee vote, and a Senate vote before being sworn in. Teaching students about Supreme Court nominations is necessary because not only is the Supreme Court an essential part of our government’s system of checks and balances, but the nine Supreme Court justices have the ability to make significant decisions that impact our daily lives.

Resources

There are a multitude of resources available online for teaching students about Supreme Court nominations. Educators should first make sure their students understand how the court functions and its overall significance, which they can do with any of the resources on our Teaching About the Supreme Court topic resource. Later, the lesson plans, articles, informational sites, and videos below will provide students with the information they need to also understand the Supreme Court appointment process!

Lesson Plans

  1. The Challenge of Selecting an Ideal Supreme Court Nominee Government Lesson Plan: Street Law, Inc. has created a lesson plan on the challenge of selecting an ideal Supreme Court nominee. In this lesson, students will research the characteristics of current justices and learn about the factors that influence Supreme Court nominations before applying this information to an activity where students will create a resume for an ideal Supreme Court nominee. The lesson contains objectives, a list of materials, teacher directions, student directions, a debrief, an evaluation, an extension, helpful websites, and more. For educators who want their students to learn about what makes a Supreme Court justice ideal along with the nomination process itself, this resource has all they need!
  2. Checks and Balances in Supreme Court Nominations – Lesson Plan: PBS provides a lesson plan on the checks in balances in Supreme Court nominations. This lesson was created shortly after Justice Souter announced he would step down at the end of President Obama’s term. Included in the lesson are two activities that will both help students understand how separation of powers plays a role in this issue and the process for selecting and confirming a Supreme Court justice. Educators who want their students to gain further understanding on the subject matter should take a look at the extension activities at the bottom of the page.
  3. To Confirm or Not to Confirm – That is the Question?: the Bill of Rights Institute has put together a lesson plan on the Supreme Court nomination process. Included in this lesson is a summary, list of objectives, collection of resources, warm-up activity, main activity, conclusion, and extension. In this lesson, students will take a look at the biographies of current Supreme Court justices and the nomination process before forming their own opinions as to whether this procedure is fair.

Articles

  1. Why Filling a Supreme Court Vacancy in an Election Year Is So Complicated: National Geographic provides an article explaining why filling a Supreme Court vacancy in an election year is so complicated. Topics covered in this article include advice and consent, the rise of public hearings, filibusters and cloture, and how the presidential election affects the process. For educators who are looking for a resource to introduce their students to the Supreme Court nomination process during an election year, this article will do the trick!
  2. AP Explains – What’s Next With the Supreme Court Vacancy: AP News has published a brief article discussing what’s next with the Supreme Court vacancy. The author answers questions including whether the Senate can fill the seat before the next election, whether the Senate can fill the vacancy after the election, how the campaign factors in, how the nomination process works, and more. 
  3. The Supreme Court Nomination Process, Explained: CNN’s brief article on the Supreme Court nomination process discusses the next steps in filling the vacancy. The author simplifies the appointment process and explains who is on the short list and various scenarios that may or may not occur in the near future. For educators who are looking for a resource that describes the nomination process for students in basic terms, this article will be key!

Informational Sites

  1. The White House – The Judicial Branch: WhiteHouse.gov provides information on the Judicial Branch, specifically the Supreme Court of the U.S. and the judicial process. From this resource, students will have access to all the information they need to know about the Supreme Court nominations and how the court functions.
  2. Supreme Court of the United States – FAQs: The Supreme Court of the U.S. has put together a page of Frequently Asked Questions about the court, including questions about how Supreme Court justices are selected, who decides how many justices are in the court, how long the term is of a Supreme Court justice, and whether justices have any responsibilities other than hearing and deciding cases.
  3. Judgeship Appointments by President: Supreme Court justices, court of appeal judges, and district court judges are nominated by the president, and the U.S. Courts offer a document which tracks judgeship appointments by each president over the past eighty years. This resource will give students a general idea of how presidents have used the power to appoint justices during their time in office.
  4. Supreme Court Appointment Process – President’s Selection of a Nominee: the Congressional Research Service provides a report on the Supreme Court appointment process, which includes information on how vacancies in the Supreme Court occur, the advice and consent provided by different sources on the nomination, criteria for selecting a nominee, and the speed by which a president selects a nominee. Students will learn a lot from this resource!
  5. Supreme Court Nominations Research Guide: Georgetown Law has put together a guide which explains the Supreme Court nomination process and recommends resources for more research on the nominations of recent Supreme Court justices.

Conclusion

Teaching about Supreme Court nominations is very important, even more so now that there is a vacancy. As the nomination process ensues, students and educators alike will be able to follow along and learn firsthand about the Supreme Court, its role in our government, and selecting the ideal Supreme Court justice. For educators who want to teach their students about the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, our topic resource on Teaching About Ruth Bader Ginsburg offers an abundance of materials which will help students understand her contributions to this country.

Additional Resources

  1. How Do U.S. Supreme Court Justices Get Appointed? – Peter Paccone: TEDEd offers a four-minute video explaining how U.S. Supreme Court justices get appointed. In addition to the video, there are a series of multiple choice and open answer questions that educators can use to get a better gage of how students are retaining the information.
  2. How Judges and Justices Are Chosen: UShistory.org provides a brief informational article on how judges and justices are chosen. Topics include the nomination process and  selection criteria (experience, political ideology, party and personal loyalties, ethnicity and gender). This article may serve as a good overview of the subject matter for students before they begin participating in an in-class activity or discussion.