The Supremes

Author: Sylvia Kniest
Edited By: Stephanie Nardei

Time: 5 class periods
Prepare lecture notes on Supreme Court and Bill of Rights (reference sites are listed below). Create Supreme Court Research
Materials: Supreme Court Research Guidelines and Bill of Rights


Students will explore the Supreme Court’s role in the justice system by looking at actual cases that have been ruled on by the Supreme Court. They will also look at how cases reach the Supreme Court and then appreciate the impact Supreme Court decisions have on their rights and the laws passed by Congress.

Students will be able to:
1. List the steps cases go through to get to the Supreme Court.
2. Discuss how Supreme Court decisions impact their rights.

National Social Studies Standards
III-D. What is the place of law in the American constitutional system?
V-B. What are the rights of citizens?

Teacher Background
Introduce this activity by first lecturing on the route to the Supreme Court.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/nation/courts/supremecourt/20022003/ (a good site for background information)
http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/ (Cornell University on Supreme Court Law)
http://www.billofrightsinstitute.org/ (a good site on the Bill of Rights)
http://www.archives.gov/national_archives_experience/charters/bill_of_rights_transcript.html (Bill of Rights)

Resource Websites

As above



Days 1-2
Introduce lesson 1 by giving a brief lecture on how the Supreme Court works and how cases are appealed to the Supreme Court (see the websites above for background information on the Supreme Court). Students should become familiar with the following terms:

  • appellate jurisdiction
  • original jurisdiction
  • writ of certiorari
  • appellant

Tell students that many cases accepted on appeal are those dealing with Constitutional issues, especially those regarding the rights of citizens. This is a good opportunity to review Bill of Rights as research preparation for their assignment.

Hand out a copy of the Bill of Rights to students. A copy can be downloaded from http://www.archives.gov/national_archives_experience/charters/bill_of_rights_transcript.html

1. Ask students to rank the Bill of Rights; 1 (highest priority) to 10 (lowest priority)

  • Give the rationale for your number 1 ranking.
  • Which rights would you give up if forced to and why?

Lead a class discussion:
2. Discuss the student’s rankings. What rights do they consider the highest priority? Why?
Which rights could they give up? Why?

3. Has there been a time when you feel one of your rights was violated? Explain.

4. What can you do if you feel your rights have been violated? (Generate discussion on Supreme Court and how it interprets laws through cases that are appealed from lower courts).

5. Handout the guidelines for the Supreme Court Activity:

Supreme Court Research Activity

The majority of citizens in the United States do not know their rights are guaranteed by the first ten amendments of the Constitution. This activity is to keep you from becoming one of the uninformed. You will research a Supreme Court Case dealing with one of the first ten amendments and write about the case and the court’s decision from the point of view of an inanimate object. For example, if you research the case, “New Jersey v. T.L.O.” you could write from the point of view of the cigarettes inside the student’s purse. Your description must include:

  • title page including name and date of the case (5 points)
  • the case background including the names of parties involved (15 points)
  • the reason case was appealed to the Supreme Court (5 points)
  • the court’s decision (10 points)
  • your opinion of how this decision will affect your rights (15 points)

Remember to write your analysis from the viewpoint of an inanimate object (20 points)

Suggested websites are:

Day 3:
Take students to computer lab to research sites provided in the Supreme Court research guidelines. By end of the period students should hand in the following information:

  • Which amendment are you exploring?
  • Name three cases you looked at during class today.
  • Name case you decided to use for research assignment.

In order to keep too many students from looking at the same issue or cases you may want to divide the amendments among students so not more than 3 or 4 are researching the same one.

This could be done on the day you review guidelines; have students draw slips of paper with the amendments--1,2,4,5,6, and 8 written on them. These are the amendments they may find most interesting. You may add amendment number 14 as the Supreme Court has used this amendment to incorporate many of the Bill of Rights’ to the States (mention that the Bill of Rights were intended to protect citizens from abuse by the national government).

Day 4:
Have students bring a hard copy of the case they are reviewing to class. Discuss the following opinions and ask students to look for them in the case they brought to class:

  • Majority opinion
  • Concurring opinion
  • Dissenting opinion
  • Per curiam opinion

1. Ask students to read the majority opinion presented in their case. Ask class how many agree with the court’s decision in your case? Ask for volunteers to give reasons.

2. Have students look for and highlight main points they need to understand to write their paper. Allow students who have similar cases or issues to work together and help each other. Help them wade through legal terminology they do not understand.

3. As they read their case they should write down the following information:

a) What is the case about?
b) What right(s) are addressed by the case?
c) Why was the case appealed to the Supreme Court?
d) Identify the major parties in the case:
e) What was the court’s decision?
f) Do you agree with the court’s decision? Why or why not?
g) How will the decision affect the right(s) addressed in the case? Has the decision provided greater or lesser protection to U.S. citizens?

4. Tell students they will turn in their responses to questions with their Supreme Court paper.

On the due date ask for volunteers to read their papers to the class. After each reading ask students if they can identify the inanimate object is and ask them to give their opinion about the Supreme Court’s decision.

Review how these cases reached the Supreme Court. Ask them to discuss if they feel any of the cases they looked at should not have been heard by the Supreme Court?

Supreme Court Research Paper

Embedded Assessment
The student’s Supreme Court paper will be assessed by the criteria listed in the guidelines.

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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