SCOTUS Preview

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) began its 2020-21 term this past Monday with eight members due to the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Issues such as the Affordable Care Act, Freedom of Religion, and the Unitary Executive Theory are on the docket in a possibly precedent-setting year by SCOTUS. In the midst of this activity, there is an impending contentious confirmation battle over the selection of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacant seat.

Dr. Steven D. Schwinn joined the IllinoisCivics.org team for a SCOTUS preview in which he outlined possible implications of a “Justice Barrett” as well as cases that can be used in #CivicsInTheMiddle classrooms addressing the separation of powers, federalism, and limited government. If you missed the webinar, you can watch this recording to enhance your understanding of judicial review. Dr. Schwinn also has a YouTube channel in which he delves into further detail about many of these current and societal issues.

We asked several of our IllinoisCivics.org Civics Instructional Coaches to share resources they use in the classroom to teach about the courts.
  • Jason Artman from Mendota recommends Supreme Decision, a game from iCivics. “I use it as an introduction to how the USSC differs from the TV trial courts my students assume every court is. The lesson walks students through deliberating on a Constitutional issue in a game format.”
  • Dr. Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz from Charleston says, “I really like StreetLaw materials for teaching recent cases - they have case summaries as well as teaching supports for several cases each term. Last year they had cool supports for teaching Flowers v. Mississippi that I used. They also just released a few things to help with teaching about the current nomination.” Bonnie points to resources for What Makes an IDEAL SCOTUS nominee? and this Explainer of the 2016 and 2020 Supreme Court Vacancies.
  • Chris Johnson keeps returning to Landmark Cases. “The Landmark Cases website has some great resources, readings, and lesson plans on several key cases in American history. There are readings and resources for multiple grade levels included on this website and can be used in civics, government, or history classes.”
  • Tracy Freeman from Normal explains, “Understanding how or why the Court would have differing viewpoints at different times is hard for my students. I use the iCivics lesson plan on SCOTUS nominations, especially the chart on the ratification (p4 student docs). How did someone as extreme as RBG have 96-3 vote? When did it become so political? I use the video Supreme Revenge from PBS to examine this issue (personally or for students). Warning, there is some PG-13/R language, preview the video before use!”
This was the first of three webinars by Dr. Schwinn examining the courts this fall. Upcoming webinars will provide a post-election analysis of the impact of the election results on the courts and an exploration of checks and balances. You can find these and other webinars on the IllinoisCivics.org Professional Development Calendar.

What resources do you use to engage your students in civic inquiry around the courts? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare students for college, career, and civic life in traditional, remote, and hybrid classrooms.

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