This week’s post comes from Dr. Robyn Kelso. Robyn teaches senior American Government, American National Government, and International Relations at Eudora High School in Eudora, KS. Robyn enjoys learning across social studies and am curious about the world as a whole. Robyn also enjoys reading and working on her hobby cattle farm.
Those who are familiar with the headline . . . yes, it is a shameless steal from Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. I was lucky enough to have stars align and enable me to take three different professional development fellowships this summer. I felt this lyric particularly applied for my first trip as part of the Supreme Court Summer Institute through Street Law in Washington DC. From content learning to lesson plans and a visit to the Supreme Court to hear opinions announced during the last days of the term, this was a terrific opportunity all the way around.
My takeaways from this experience included several things:
- The setting. Our classes were held daily at Georgetown Law School which set the academic tone for me right away. Learning from attorneys who had argued in front of the Supreme Court and hearing about the process was amazing.
- Moot Court Experience. We spent one day preparing a moot court. I can’t wait to try this out with students. I have historically done debates and other types of hearings, but I think a moot court would be really beneficial for all students and as teachers we got to learn exactly how to break this down to teach our students.
- Opinion Day. We were able to attend one of the closing sessions of the Court and heard two decisions read. As we entered the courtroom (“the room where it happened!”), we had been advised that this was the last scheduled day, according to the court calendar, so I was excited to hear all the remaining decisions heard. The reality was, however, that the court read opinions on two cases (Abbott v Perez and Ohio v American Express Co.) and scheduled another day. Talk about keeping us all guessing! I wish I had a picture of the courtroom, but cameras are not allowed under any circumstances.
- What Happened Next: Following listening to opinions by Justices Thomas and Alito, our group got to have a meet and greet with Justice Samuel Alito who graciously answered questions for nearly an hour! I was impressed he had that kind of time for us! He provided tremendous insight as to the court’s working within the confines of confidentiality. I was hoping to have a pic of the group, but our picture still hasn’t made its way to us!
- If this wasn’t enough, other concepts addressed during the week included a presentation by Nina Totenberg form NPR on how the media covers the Supreme Court, presentations by interest groups and their role in the Supreme Court as well as several lawyers through the week who have argued cases before the Supreme Court. A terrific experience all the way around!
I was in the room where it happened! This was the day I attended court to hear opinions announced. Notice the line to get in – there is public line, but I was lucky and had a ticket.
Lee Arbetman and Nina Totenberg discuss the role of the media in the Supreme Court.
Resources provided by Street Law. Tons of content learning, balanced by lesson plans and teacher round table discussions.
And finally – what can teachers use? Tons, so I have put together a brief lesson plan:
- The lesson begins a handout that gives the Constitutional authority and background on how justices have been picked – what personal and professional qualities are valued for example (HERE). A second handout lays out the timeline of the process (HERE). My plan is to have students read these handouts the night before the lesson. I will most likely upload to our Google classroom so they have electronic copies available not only to read but also to reference throughout the next day’s lesson.
- The actual lesson itself has several components, which you can use all or some, depending on your schedule, including a specific piece for those who teach AP US Government, tailored to those specific standards. If you are on a block schedule, completing all the handouts and activities seems very do-able. If you are a traditional schedule, completing all activities may take a couple of days and/or can be assigned for homework.
- For my purposes, my plan would look like this for a non- AP class. I would start with a brainstorming type activity to get them thinking about what’s important in a justice (HERE). This could also be done individually or incorporated into the homework the night before. Next, I would provide a document for students to complete researching the current justices so they have an idea as to what the expectations are for justices (HERE). Next, I would have them get into groups of 3-4 and create a resume (HERE) for their ideal justice and be prepared to share out with the class, with the class taking notes over each presentation to prepare for the final piece.
- I would wrap with a final individual assignment – after listening to class presentations, create a 3-4 paragraph persuasive essay, selecting their choice to fill the open seat on the Supreme Court from what their classmates presented.
As I peruse the many resources I gathered during my time, I wanted to share with you one lesson that you may find helpful as you teach the Supreme Court. This lesson is especially relevant and that is a lesson plan developed around how the President goes about choosing a Supreme Court justice when an opening arises.