Hi guys, I was recently asked if I had a sample lesson on how to conduct Supreme Court Conferences in the classroom. Here is a strategy that works great and you can use multiple different cases to work with kids. Thank you to the State Bar of Texas LRE for such a great lesson!!!
Steps in Conducting Mini Supreme Court Conferences
Objectives: The students will…
1.Participate in a mini Supreme Court conference.
2.Understand the procedure used by the Supreme Court in deciding whether to take a case and how they arrive at their decision after the hearing.
3.Analyze key Supreme Court decisions.
Materials: Copies of the facts of Supreme Court cases to be used in the conference. Save the decision for use after the conferences are completed. A good place to find student appropriate readings of cases can be found on the website, http://www.texaslre.org/--Oyez, Oyez, OYAY! project.
1.Decide on the case(s) that the students will use in the Supreme Court conference. The students can use the same case or each group of nine can use a difference case.
2.Discuss with the students the purposes of a Supreme Court conference.These can include a conference in which the court discusses whether they will take a case OR a conference in which the court discusses the decision after the hearing on a case had been conducted. For purposes of this activity students will conduct the conference to arrive at the decision.
3.Divide the class into groups of nine. Appoint a Chief Justice in each group.Assign the remaining eight justices the numbers one through eight. The eight Justices’ seniority is indicated by their assigned number—number one representing the senior Associate Justice and number eight representing the junior Associate Justice.
4.Pass out the case(s) to be used in the conference. Have the students read the facts of the case and write a personal summary of their opinion with reasoning before proceeding.
5.Explain to the students the process they will use to conduct the conference:
a.The Chief Justice begins by reviewing the facts and the decision of the lower court, outlines his/her understanding of the applicable case law,and indicates either that he/she will vote to affirm the decision of the lower court or to reverse it. NOTE: The Chief Justice may opt to vote at the beginning or at the end of the conference, but most of the time votes at the beginning.
b.Starting with Justice number one (most senior), have each person give a brief discussion of their opinion of the case and his/her vote as to whether to affirm the decision of the lower court or to reverse it. Each
Justice should keep a tally of the other Justices’ opinions for or against as well as the key reasons for his/her opinions.
c. Recess the group. Hold a maximum ten-minute free discussion of the case among the various Justices. During this time Justices, should try and persuade others to their opinion as well as try and form coalitions before taking the final vote. In the case of a unanimous vote on the first try this step will not be necessary.
d. Conduct a final vote in the same order as described in steps A and B.
e. Explain to the students that once the majority opinion is reached, the Chief Justice decides who will write the opinion(s)—majority, dissenting, and concurring. This is an optional step in the exercise that can be assigned as a writing assignment if desired.
f. If the class has used the same case, each group should report their final decision to the class. If they have used different cases, each court should briefly discuss their case and conclusions with the class.
g. Give the students the actual decision of the case and compare it to the findings of the conferences.
6. Debrief the activity with the following questions:
a. How did you arrive at your initial opinion? Did it change during the vote and discussion with other Justices? Why or why not?
b. What did you learn about the workings of the Supreme Court when arriving at the decision in a case before them?
c. How was your court’s conference similar/different from other conferences conducted by the class?
d. How did the decision of your conference compare to the actual decision of the Supreme Court in this case?
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