When you study the United States and its three branches of government, you’ll find that the judicial branch includes lots of courts. But one of those courts is particularly important: the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court currently has 9 members.
- StreetLaw has an interesting collection of resources for your classroom study of the Supreme Court.
- Four lesson plans for grades 9-12.
- How the Supreme Court Works
- PBS has a collection of lesson plans focusing on a number of cases.
- A simulation of the Supreme Court gives a sense of what the USSC does, an also provides an opportunity to practice courteous discussion of serious topics.
- The New York Times has some intriguing discussion questions about the Supreme Court. There are some broken links, but it’s a thought-provoking list.
- The Bill of Rights Institute has a list of landmark cases to explore.
- A collection of lesson plans for middle school and high school
There are so many important Supreme Court cases that you could easily ask each student to find a different case (send them to some of the resources above as a starting point) and report on it for the class.
First, work together on an interesting set of cases that aren’t on most lists: the Insular Cases.
If you look up “insular,” you’ll find that its an adjective about islands. You could, for example, talk about insular products such as pineapples.
The Insular Cases are a series of cases about U.S. Island territories from the early 20th century. The Supreme Court set up various categories of territories, laying down a history of confusion that still turns up in the headlines today. Congress recently considered a Resolution declaring the cases racist and outdated.
Read about the Insular Cases. The linked article focuses primarily on Puerto Rico, and you will find a link at the bottom of the page to read the article in Spanish. Want more? Here’s a challenging article from Yale Law School for teacher background. And here’s an essay discussing how the Insular Cases affect the law today.
Watch the video below to get a clearer idea of the classification of territories:
Check out a Quizlet on the Insular Cases focusing on Cuba.
Once students are fairly clear on the Insular Cases, have them search for news articles mentioning these cases. Over the past few years, many news stories have brought these cases up and given a quick explanation of them. Collect the explanations on a bulletin board or on chart paper.
Ask students to decide whether the explanations are clear and useful or not.
Here are some questions about the Insular Cases to consider:
- Would the Supreme Court make the same decisions today?
- Should the Insular Cases be overturned?
Supreme Court Judge or Princess?
Supreme Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor explains that being a Supreme Court Judge is a career, but that being a princess is not:
Stephen Colbert responded by pointing out that more American girls have grown up to be a princess than a Supreme Court Justice:
Another American woman has become a princess since then by marrying a foreign prince. Have a serious discussion on whether it’s important to have a diverse Supreme Court. In the two centuries of its existence, the Supreme Court has had almost entirely Protestant white men as its Justices. Does that make a difference?
Ask students to take a position, then to form groups and research or discuss the question to find clear statements that support the point of view they’ve chosen.
Get back together as a class and hold a debate on the subject.
At the end of the process, see whether any students changed their minds.