It’s All About Justice

Author: Sylvia Kniest

Time: 2 class periods
Copy photographs or use overhead to show photographs from the websites listed below.
Copy articles from the websites listed below and cut into separate fact sheets. Photocopy Treasure Hunt worksheets for every student.
Materials: Photos A and B; 3 articles from http://www.fjc.gov/federal/courts.nsf cut into slips; worksheet “It’s a Matter of Justice”


Students will identify an environmental concern and explore the justice system by participating in a treasure hunt. Students will then discuss how they could use the legal system to bring about a change.

Students will be able to:
1. Discuss the meaning of federal and state jurisdiction.
2. As part of a treasure hunt and subsequent class discussion compare civil and criminal cases.
3. As part of a treasure hunt and subsequent class discussion identify the major characteristics and powers/duties of the federal judges.

National Standards For Civics and Government
III-D. What is the place of law in the American constitutional system?

Teacher Background
An excellent site for additional information on the Judicial Branch is: http://www.aboutgovernment.org/judicialbranch.htm

Resource Websites

http://environment.about.com/library/images/bllandpollutionb.htm: photo land pollution
http://environment.about.com/library/images/blairpollutionf.htm: photo air pollution
http://www.aboutgovernment.org/judicialbranch.htm (good site for background on the judicial system)
http://www.fjc.gov/federal/courts.nsf: (site to use with Treasure Hunt Activity)



Lesson 1:
Show the two photos from the above website on an overhead projector or print a copy for small groups of students to view.

1. Label pictures; Photo A and Photo B: Give students approximately 5 minutes to study each picture then ask them to describe what is going on in the photos A and B. For each photo they will record the following information:

a) What images do you see?
b) What feelings do the images in the picture convey?
c) Who do you feel is ultimately responsible for the contamination you see in the picture?

2. Discuss the following scenario with the class: Imagine that this is a picture taken in your local community. Brainstorm and list all of the possible avenues you could pursue to try and get the area cleaned up.

3. Tell the students that at times courts are forced to step in when the federal and/or local government fails to meet the needs of its citizens. Follow by asking what they know about the justice system and record their responses on the board.

Lesson 2:”It’s All About Justice” Treasure Hunt
Prepare for the lesson by copying the following articles from the website: http://www.fjc.gov/federal/courts.nsf

  • Go to What Do Federal Courts Do and select and copy the following pages: “How is a federal court different from a state court” and “What’s the difference between a civil case and a criminal case?”
  • Go to Who Does What? And click to In the courtroom and click on the judge in the diagram of the courtroom and click on Judge Q’s and A’s. Copy this page
  • Copy “It’s All about Justice” treasure hunt worksheets for every student (see below).
  • Cut the three articles into individual fact slips. You can create 25 individual fact slips from the three articles by cutting the articles where there are logical separations between facts. More facts can be divided if you have a class larger than 25 or some facts can be duplicated.

Procedure: Tell students: “Each of you will draw one fact sheet from the box. You will share the information on your sheet with other students in the room. As you speak with other students you will also complete your treasure hunt worksheet. Your goal is to complete your worksheet as quickly and accurately as possible. You will have 30 minutes to try and complete your treasure hunt sheet. First begin by reading your fact. Make sure you understand your fact completely so that you can explain it to other students in the class.

It’s All About Justice-Treasure Hunt!

1. What is
a) a Plaintiff?
b) a litigant?
c) indictment?
d) jurisdiction?
e) a magistrate?
f) an Article III judge?

2. How does a criminal case begin?
b) civil case?

3. Give an example of a civil case that would be tried in a federal court rather than a state court.

4. Who prosecutes a criminal case?

5. How is a criminal case different from a civil case from the point of view of the victim?

6. Name three types of cases that would be tried in a federal court.
b) What types of cases would be tried in state court?

7. When would a federal court hear a case dealing with a state law?

8. How many judges are on the Supreme Court? Who set that number?

9. What are the qualifications for federal judges?
b) how are they chosen?

10. Why don’t federal judges have term limits?

After 30 minutes have students return to their seats and discuss the treasure hunt sheets.
Discuss the following questions:
Imagine that you decided to file a civil suit regarding the pollution depicted in the photographs we looked at yesterday (perhaps show them again).

1. Which court would the case be tried in; State or Federal? Why?
2. Who would be the plaintiff in photo A? Photo B?

Embedded Assessment

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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