Introduction

The Supreme Court is “charged with ensuring the American people the promise of equal justice under law and, thereby, also functions as guardian and interpreter of the Constitution” (Supreme Court of the United States). As a part of the U.S. system of checks and balances, the Supreme Court has the power of judicial review, meaning that they can declare laws or actions by the president as unconstitutional. In other words, the Supreme Court plays a very important role in our government by serving justice, checking the power of each branch of government, protecting the rights of American citizens, and more. Teaching students about the Supreme Court gives them the opportunity to fully grasp the significance of the Court’s decisions on our daily lives!

Resources

There are many resources available online for teaching students about the Supreme Court. These lesson plans, articles, and informational sites will help students better understand the role and importance of the Court!

Lesson Plans

  1. Academy 4SC: Find videos related to the Supreme Court at Academy 4SC, like How The Supreme Court Works: An Appeal to Justice, Judicial Review: Checking the Other 2 Branches, Bill of Rights: Listed Liberties, and Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905), among others. Teachers have access to resources like worksheets, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more included in each topic’s lesson plan. Explore Academy 4SC’s full library of applicable content under the tag The Supreme Court.
  2. Leaders 4SC Forces: Leaders 4SC provides a variety of Task Forces that provoke students to think critically about key issues as they roleplay as decision-makers and brainstorm well-detailed solutions. Each Task Force comes with step-by-step instructions, Google slide templates to be used with virtual breakout rooms, and topic-specific questions to get students started. The activities can be completed either individually or as part of a group. A fun Task Force is Reform The Justice System.
  3. How the Supreme Court Works Lesson Plan: USAGov has put together a lesson plan that teaches students about the Supreme Court and how it works. Students will learn how to conduct research for a case and build an argument, practice public speaking, and learn about the Supreme Court’s importance in their lives. They will research cases that interest them (e.g. access to free college education, changing the voting age, etc.) and then plan their arguments according to assigned courtroom roles. For educators who want their students to learn about the Supreme Court through hands-on experience, this lesson may be the perfect choice!
  4. Supreme Court Activity: The United States Courts website asks students to “do a simulation of a Supreme Court deliberation that introduces them to the difficult role of the courts balancing individual rights and public safety when national security is threatened.” Resources include suggested procedures, a ranking activity for individual rights, discussion questions, a quiz on the Supreme Court, and additional activities that promote critical thinking. With these materials, students can work in groups and weigh the risks of eliminating certain rights while keeping the nation safe during a national security alert. Students will be given valuable insight into the Supreme Court operations and the difficult decisions members have to make on a daily basis.

Articles

  1. Supreme Court of the United States: Scholastic provides a brief article explaining the organization and procedures of the Supreme Court, its jurisdiction, its constitutional development, the controversy that has surrounded the Court, and the differing views of activists and traditionalists on how the Court should interpret the Constitution. Students can learn a lot of valuable information on the inner workings of the Court.
  2. U.S. Supreme Court: The New York Times keeps a database of sorts where all their current news regarding the Supreme Court is located. This resource would be great for educators who would like their students to work on a current events piece, as there are a variety of topics covered, including the racial gap in death penalty cases, the Court’s decision to allow Trump to continue building his border wall, and more.

Informational Sites

Supreme Court

  1. History.com: HISTORY offers an abundance of information on the early days of the Supreme Court, Supreme Court Justices (current/notable), and Supreme Court cases. Overall, students can learn a lot about the Court’s history, particularly the most well-known cases and notable Justices.
  2. Britannica: Encyclopaedia Britannica provides information on the scope and jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, its size, membership, and organization, procedures and power in the Court, select decisions the Court has made, and more.
  3. Lumen Learning: Lumen Learning has compiled information on the structure and important features of the Supreme Court, how the Court selects cases, and other processes and procedures. Also included in this resource are images, a video, diagrams, a glossary, and a series of questions.
  1. The Supreme Court – What Does It Do?: UShistory.org, a project of the Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia, explains the Court’s function, specifically how Justices choose cases, hear and decide on cases, and announce and implement decisions. This resource can serve as a good overview on the Supreme Court for students before they begin participating in lessons.
  2. Supreme Court of the United States: The website for the Supreme Court of the United States provides many materials to help the public understand its functions. Not only does this source supply information on the Court’s history and traditions along with that of the Justices, but it also gives students and educators access to the Court’s oral argument transcripts, so they can see firsthand how the Supreme Court works.

Conclusion

Teaching students about the Supreme Court is an important task because the Court has a great impact on the lives of everyday Americans. In the past few decades, they have ruled on many of the issues that US citizens care about deeply, including same-sex marriage and abortion. In order to be well-informed citizens, students should be aware of how our government functions, more specifically how the Court works.

Additional Resources

  1. The Supreme Court: PBS Learning Media offers a number of lesson plans on balancing federal and state authority, civil rights and civil liberties, landmark cases, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the power and importance of precedents. 
  2. Websites About the Supreme Court: Street Law, Inc. has compiled general information on Supreme Court cases, along with multimedia and lesson plan sites. The recommended materials include those from the Constitutional Rights Foundation, the First Amendment Center, the New York Times, the American Bar Association, and more.
  3. Landmark Supreme Court Cases eLessons: the Bill of Rights Institute has put together a list of Landmark Supreme Court case eLessons, including Dred Scott v. Sanford, Plessy v. Ferguson, Marbury v. Madison, McCulloch v. Maryland, Gibbons v. Ogden, and more.
  4. Judicial Branch: the National Education Association (NEA) offers a Supreme Court nominations research guide, a debate about judicial impartiality, and related resources and links (Civics Education, the Oyez Project, U.S. Courts Educational Outreach, etc.).