With this teacher guide, students will develop a strong understanding for the purpose of the Judicial Branch of the United States Government. Students will design storyboards that illustrate the power, responsibilities, and history of the judicial system.
Judicial Branch Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers
Complex topics, such as the composition and responsibilities of the Judicial Branch, benefit from taking a focused look at key questions.
In this activity, students will create a Spider Map that represents the 5 Ws of the Judicial Branch. For each W, who, what, where, when, and why, students will ask and answer a central question. Using the cell space, students will create a visual representation to accompany their responses.
Here are some examples of possible questions:
Who is a member of the Judicial Branch?
What is the purpose of the Judicial Branch?
When was the Judicial Branch created?
Where is the Judicial Branch located?
Why do we have a Judicial Branch?
Who is in charge of the Judicial Branch?
What does the Judicial Branch do?
What types of jobs are part of the Judicial Branch?
Who is part of the Judicial Branch?
The Judicial Branch is made up of a variety of individuals. The branch consists of judges, bailiffs, justices, lawyers, and everyday civilians who serve as jurors!
What is the role of the Judicial Branch?
The Judicial Branch is responsible for making sure justice is being upheld for every citizen. The branch resolves conflicts and judges the constitutionality of law.
When was the Judicial Branch created?
The Judicial Branch was created in 1787 with the signing of the Constitution. The Constitution created the structure of government with the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Branches.
Where is the Judicial Branch located?
The Judicial Branch is located in all 50 states. Each state has their own court system. Although most trials are resolved in the state, sometimes they will be appealed to the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
Why does the Judicial Branch exist?
The Judicial Branch exists to ensure that the government and civilians are following the laws. No one in America is above the law, and the court's goal is to enforce justice.
Students will create a spider map that represents the numerous individuals of the Judicial Branch. Students are required to select at least four roles of the Judicial System from the list below, represent each individual, and include a written description for each specific individual.
Members of the Judicial Branch:
Supreme Court Justice
Here is an example storyboard of four individuals:
A bailiff is a court officer that is responsible for the transportation and actions of the accused in court. The bailiff is also responsible for keeping order in the court.
The judge is the individual who is responsible for presiding over a trial. Depending on the type of trial, the powers of the judge vary, but a judge ensures that legal proceedings are being applied throughout the trial.
A court stenographer is responsible for transcribing the events, quotes, and details throughout the case. A stenographer's notes can be very helpful when reviewing a lengthy case.
The jury are the members of the trial responsible for determining the verdict in certain cases. Jurors are regular civilians that are randomly selected to serve on a trial.
Students research a specific individual from the activity above. Students can select an individual who has made a historical impact on their specific role. Students should make a storyboard that represents who the person was and what actions they performed to impact the Judicial Branch.
The Judicial Branch has had an enormous impact on the history and development of America. Many major legal rulings made by the Supreme Court have shaped American society.
Have students research major events that have occurred throughout the History of the Supreme Court. Students will create a timeline that reflects the foundations of the judicial branch, along with major events that have transpired within the judiciary. Here are some Judicial Branch facts.
Example Supreme Court Timeline
September 17, 1787
The Supreme Court is Created
In 1787, the United States Constitution was signed. The Constitution created Article III, which created the entire Judicial Branch.
March 10, 1810
Fletcher vs. Peck
In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled against the Georgia state law regarding a land sale. This was the first time the Supreme Court struck down a state law.
May 18, 1986
Plessy vs. Ferguson
One of the most infamous decisions in Supreme Court history was during the case of Plessy vs. Ferguson. The Court ruled that despite the abolition of slavery, it was legal to have separate facilities for blacks and whites.
April 4, 1935
Supreme Court Building Established
In 1935, the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. was opened. This building has become a global landmark for both its architecture, and immensely significant legal decisions.
March 18, 1963
Gideon vs. Wainwright
In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled in Gideon vs. Wainwright that states are required to provide legal counsel for all defendants, even if they are unable to pay for one.
September 21, 1981
Sandra Day O'Connor Appointed to Supreme Court
In 1981, the United States Senate ruled 99-0 in favor of appointing Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court. O'Connor was the first female Supreme Court Justice in U.S. history.
June 21, 1989
Texas vs. Johnson
In 1989, the Supreme Court ruled in the highly controversial case that the burning of the American flag is protected under the First Amendment's freedom of speech clause.
To extend this activity, students will create a similar timeline that represents major events from the highest court of the state in which they live. Or, teachers may assign different states to students for a comparative activity.
The Judicial Branch deals with all sorts of court cases. Depending on the type of grievance or law broken, there are different types of trials, mainly civil trials and criminal trials.
In this activity, students will be able to create a T-Chart that visualizes the differences between a civil and criminal trial in the United States court system. Students will research at least three differences between each type of case and describe each visualization in the space below each representation.
Who is the trial between?
The trial is between two parties, or individuals. The disputes are usually over legal disputes, divorces, injuries, negligence, or breaches of contract.
The trial is between an individual or party versus the government. A criminal trial occurs when an individual or party has broken a law of society, and they admit guilt, or attempt to deny or justify their actions.
What are the results of the trial?
The individual at fault is usually punished by paying the plaintiff a sum, as determined by the judge.
Depending on the severity of the crime, the guilty party can be forced to pay a fine, serve jail time, serve probation, or in some states they can be executed.
Who decides the case?
In most civil trials, a judge presides over the case and determines guilt. A civil trial can have a jury if either side requests one.
A jury listens to the evidence and witnesses, and uses that information to determine guilt. A judge presides over the case to ensure a fair legal process, but it is up to the jury to determine guilt.
For an extended activity, students will create a T-Chart that summarizes a famous criminal or civil trial. Students will need to visualize and summarize the event(s) that led to the trial, the arguments for each side, and the ruling of the court with potential punishments imposed.
Students will research a landmark Supreme Court case. Students will create a Frayer Model storyboard to describe the background and events that led to the case. Students will then research both viewpoints of their selected case and create a visualization of each side. Finally, students will create a visualization of the Supreme Court’s ruling and describe what the rationale behind it was.
Tinker vs. Des Moines
What led to this court case?
In 1965, John and Marybeth Tinker were students that opposed the Vietnam War. In an effort to symbolically display their opinions towards the war, both students wore black armbands to school and were soon suspended for doing so.
The Tinkers argued that their armbands were a form of symbolic speech. The students believed that the First Amendment of the Constitution protected their freedom of speech and petition.
Des Moines' Argument
The Des Moines school district suspended the Tinkers because the school believed that their form of protest was a distraction for other students in the school. From the district's perspective, a school was not an appropriate place to protest the Vietnam War.
Supreme Court Ruling
The Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 decision that the students had the right to wear the armbands in school, as it was protected by the First Amendment.
Below is a list of possible landmark Supreme Court cases that students can use for their assignment
Koramatsu v. United States
Texas v. Johnson
Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier
Brown v. Board of Education
Roe v. Wade
Marbury v. Madison
Dred Scott v. Sandford
Obergefell v. Hodges
For an extended activity, students may choose to research another Supreme Court case not listed above. Students can create an additional space in their Frayer Model that reflects their opinion of the Supreme Court ruling. Students may examine the historical events that led up to the case.
When the Founding Fathers established the American government, they made a system of checks and balances so no one part of the government would have too much power. There are three branches of government: the Legislative Branch, the Executive Branch, and the Judicial Branch. The Legislative Branch was intended to make laws, the Executive Branch to enforce laws, and the Judicial Branch to judge laws.
In the study of American government, it is essential to have an understanding of the American judicial system. Independent from the other branches of government, the value of the Judicial Branch is immeasurable to the preservation of American democracy. From the rich legacy of the Supreme Court, to the daily conflicts in local courts, the judiciary plays a vital role in the protection and safety of all American citizens.
Essential Questions for the Judicial Branch
What is the responsibility of the Judicial Branch?
How is the court system organized?
How does the Judicial Branch ensure democratic values?