Understanding How the Government Works: Judicial Review

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

This summer, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a series of landmark decisions that will reverberate in civics classrooms and society as a whole for years to come. Whether you find yourself on the left or right of the political spectrum, these precedents offered “wins” for both sides of the aisle and opportunities for classrooms to explore essential questions surrounding judicial review and the role of the courts.
  • How does judicial review influence American culture and vice versa?
  • To what extent is our justice system fair and impartial?
  • To what degree is the judicial branch political?
  • How do competing interests influence how judicial review is exercised and perceived?
  • How does the judicial branch balance the rights of individuals with concerns for the common good?
  • How successful has the judicial branch been in helping build a “more perfect union?”
  • To what extent has judicial review been successful in limiting the risk of tyranny?
  • To what extent should the executive and judicial branches be involved in creating public policy?
This week’s IllinoisCivics.org webinar explored many of these questions with our guest, Dr. Steven D. Schwinn. professor of law at the University of Illinois Chicago John Marshall Law School, where he teaches constitutional law, comparative constitutional law, and human rights. In addition to teaching, Steve edits the American Constitution Society Annual Supreme Court Review and co-edits the Constitutional Law Professor Blog. Steve’s writings have appeared in a variety of law journals and popular media, including the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, The Progressive, and SCOTUSblog. He regularly writes for the ABA Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases. He comments frequently in the media and participates regularly in a variety of civic learning programs through exploring the constitutional origins of the judicial branch, how courts interpreted this concept over time, and how political factions differed over the distribution of power throughout the three branches of government.

If you missed the webinar, you can access the recording to deepen your content knowledge and get connected resources and strategies for teaching about separation of powers in your classroom.

At the end of each webinar, our Illinois Civics Instructional Coaches share resources aligned to the proven practices of civic education embedded in both the middle and high school civics course requirements. This week, two coaches shared tools they encourage teachers to begin with to enhance their current instruction around the separation of powers.
  • Dr. Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz from Charleston shared that, "There are great resources on judicial review from iCivics. I especially like the game ‘Argument Wars,’ where students can choose and argue a famous Court case. This does an especially good job of teaching about precedent in judicial decision-making."
    Dr. Laughlin-Schultz also pointed participants to lesson plans on the IllinoisCivics.org website that address judicial review. 'Is Justice Blind?,' walks students through the judicial decision-making process with a focus on last term’s Flowers v. Mississippi case." This lesson is differentiated for middle and high school classrooms.
  • Chris Johnson from Oneida encouraged educators to use the Street Law Landmark Cases website. "The Landmark Cases website is a must for teaching Supreme Court cases. It has a list of several key cases as well as great teaching resources for introducing the cases regardless of how much time you have. Also included in the background section for each case is a summary that is presented at three different reading levels. This is great for differentiating in the classroom but also great for helping middle school students make sense of these complex issues. There are many other great resources out there but this is a great starting point for students and teachers of all levels."
In addition to these recommended resources, the IllinoisCivics.org website has:
  • A Curriculum Design Toolkit with resources to help you identify assets in your curriculum and resources to meet any needs for civics course implementation, including strategies for direct instruction on limited government.
  • Lesson plans aligned with the Illinois Social Science standards and proven practices of civic education that explore constitutional concepts like limited government, federalism, separation of powers, checks and balances, and judicial review.
  • Guidelines for Administrators that describe how the Illinois Civics mandates align with other educational initiatives.
It is not too late to register for the remaining webinars. Each session will take place on Wednesday morning from 9:30-10:30 a.m. Educators can join live to interact with hosts and ask questions or watch a recording of each session. Each webinar is free and participants can elect to earn two PD credits per webinar for completing a post-webinar application activity.

What are you doing to implement the middle and high school civics requirements? Please comment below. Together we can prepare ALL students for college, career, and civic life.

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