With Justice Souter's recent announcement that he will step down at the
end of the term President Obama has to nominate a replacement justice.
This lesson examines different aspects of the balance of power among
the branches and the process of judicial nomination and confirmation:
1) how the court (and the entire judicial system) are an important part
of the system of checks and balances; 2) the process for selecting
members to the judiciary and how selection process is a fundamental
part of the separation of powers/checks and balances in the U.S.
Constitution; 3) the political and sometimes partisan side of the
confirmation process that involves different philosophies of
constitutional interpretation and jurisprudence.
lesson is divided up into three steps. These can be modified at the
teacher's discretion. There is also a list of vocabulary words that are
used in Part III which students should know before the activities are
PDF - Declare Your PowersPDF - Declare Your Powers Answer KeyPDF - Supreme Court Confirmation Flow ChartPDF - Supreme Court Confirmation Flow Chare Answer KeyPDF - Supreme Court Vocabulary
Part I: Declare Your Powers
first activity helps students understand the dynamics of separation of
powers/checks and balances and how the factors interplay with current
issues. The chart depicting the separation of powers/checks and
balances can be passed out as homework the day before the activity
1. Divide students into three large
groups. Then have each group separate into smaller groups of two or
three. Pass out Handout 1: "Declare Your Powers"
and have students review the directions and the chart in their small groups.
2. Rearrange students back into the three large groups. Have them move
together in their groups so that there is space between each group.
Designate each group to be one of the three branches of government.
3. Review the following circumstances with the class asking the student
groups to raise their hands when they hear a circumstance where their
branch has power to act. Then ask the other two groups to determine if
they have the power to "check" the branch exercising their power and
what power would they exercise to check that branch. (Check answer key
- Homeland Security officials have been ordered to open suspicious
packages they believe might be from terrorists.
B. A bill recently passed to allow citizens to choose their own health care plan under Medicare.
C. The United States has signed a peace treaty with Iran.
D. A law, recently passed in a state legislature banning gay marriages,
is being challenged as unconstitutional.
E. A bill is passed outlawing American citizens from making
contributions to Middle East charitable organizations.
F. A replacement suggestion for the position of Attorney General has been given to Congress.
G. A recent law closing a tax reduction for U.S. companies establishing
off shore companies is ruled constitutional…
- A recent bill to increase funding for education was passed again after it was rejected.
- A health care insurance company has been ordered to pay for additional treatment requested by a patient.
Part II - The process for selecting and confirming a Supreme Court Justice
1. In this activity students will review the process of selecting
justices to the Supreme Court. Distribute Handout 2: "Supreme Court Confirmation Flow Chart"
to students and review the Supreme Court Confirmation Process.
2. Then have students work in pairs or trios to complete the chart on
Handout 2 that shows the steps a candidate must go through in order to
be confirmed. This is primarily a reading-comprehension exercise, so it
might be a good idea to work with students to make sure they identify
all the steps and provide adequate descriptions of the process. Refer
to the answer key
for results. This activity could be done as homework.
1. Students can find further examples of Separation of Powers/Checks
and Balances by reviewing the newspaper for articles that feature one
or more of the branches in action. They can clip the articles, write a
summary and identify which branch is exercising power and what branch
might "check" that power.
For students to get a better understanding of the partisan politics
surrounding the nomination process, students can conduct their own
selection for Cabinet or Supreme Court nominees. Additional information
on the two opposing viewpoints can be found at the Alliance for Justice
and The Committee for Justice
McRel K-12 Standards Addressed:
Standard 5: Understands the major characteristics of systems of shared powers and of parliamentary systems
Standard 20: Understands the roles of political parties, campaigns, elections, and
associations and groups in American politics
Standard 7: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts
- Listening and Speaking
Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes
Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media
- Working with Others
Standard 1: Contributes to the overall effort of a group
Standard 4: Displays effective interpersonal communication skills