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9-12 > U.S. History
Grade level: 9-12 Subject: U.S. History Duration: Two class periods
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Profiles of Freedom

Students will understand the following:
1.State laws can be found to be constitutional or to violate the U.S. Bill of Rights and therefore be overturned by the Supreme Court.
2.The Internet and other research sources contain extensive information about cases heard by the Supreme Court.

For this lesson, you will need:
Access to the Internet
Past issues of newspapers and magazines—in print or in microform

1.Students will follow your directions to find material they need to produce a written report on a Supreme Court decision that found a state law violated a freedom guaranteed by the Bill of Rights and was, therefore, unconstitutional.
2.Send students to the Web site “Analysis and Interpretation: Annotations of Cases Decided by the Supreme Court of the United States.” The Web address is www.access.gpo.gov/congress/senate/constitution.
3.That site contains a search engine to help researchers find cases decided by the Supreme Court. Suggest that students type in “unconstitutional” and click “search.”
4.When the search results appear, students should click on “state acts held unconstitutional.”
5.The next screen provides a summary of what the court found unconstitutional and why. Students should screen this list of Supreme Court decisions to identify only those in which state acts were declared unconstitutional by the court because they violated one or more of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. (Also listed on this screen are acts declared unconstitutional because they violate other parts of the Constitution. The emphasis in this activity is strictly unconstitutionality in regard to the Bill of Rights.)
6.Students should then select one of the decisions that meet their criterion and note the state it involved, the date of the decision, and the names of the justices who agreed with the finding and those who dissented from the majority. With those pieces of information, students’ next step is to track down news stories reporting on the court’s deliberations and conclusions. Using an online or printed index of newspapers (national and local), news magazines, and journals, students should find abstracts or titles of articles that seem to be about the court’s views on the case in question.
7.Advise students that they will probably understand articles in the popular press more readily than articles in academic journals but that they might want to look at both sources if they have the opportunity to do so. At any rate, they should track down and read at least two articles about the Supreme Court decision they are researching. (At this point, a librarian can help your students learn how to access the sources they are looking for—whether they are available in print or electronically and whether they are available at a local library, at a research library, or through an interlibrary loan.)
8.Specify for students that after reading two (or more) articles on the Supreme Court decision they should write a report containing the following three parts:
  • A summary of the court’s majority opinion
  • A summary of the dissenting opinion(s)
  • A statement about whether they will be personally affected by this decision
Tell students which documentation style to use when citing published articles in their report.
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You can control the level of abstraction in this assignment by eliminating the research phase. Identify for students which single Supreme Court decision you want them to read about—a decision that found a state act in violation of the Bill of Rights. Preview and distribute to students only those news reports that you have preselected for them to read. Check students’ reading comprehension by holding a whole-class discussion on the reports you’ve distributed.
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Discussion Questions

1.Hypothesize what our justice system would be like if the Bill of Rights had never been added to the Constitution. How would our country deal with arguments over issues such as freedom of speech, exercise of religion, and protection of the accused? Can you think of a different system for addressing such arguments?
2.What issues concerning the Bill of Rights have you or other people your age encountered at your school or in your community? How have the authorities at your school handled these issues? Do you feel that you are treated fairly?
3.Imagine that you’ve been chosen to be a member of a committee charged with drafting a “Young Person’s Bill of Rights.” Everyone from the government, your parents, and your teachers would have to adhere to the bill you created. What basic freedoms would you want to protect? Explain the reasoning behind your choices.
4.Are there any amendments in the Bill of Rights that you find objectionable? Discuss the ethical, moral, legal, political, or personal considerations that support your opinions.
5.If you were granted the power to add a single additional amendment to the Bill of Rights, what would it be and why?
6.Mary Beth Tinker was a young student who wore a black armband to school to show her support for the Christmas Truce in the Vietnam War and her general opposition to the war as a whole. Do you think that protests such as Mary Beth Tinker’s armband cause disruption in schools? If another student protested in a similar manner, would you be distracted? Discuss how you would react and how you think school officials would react.
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You can evaluate your students on their reports using this three-point rubric:
  • Three points: correctly identified a state law that the Supreme Court found in violation of the Bill of Rights; summarized fully the majority and minority opinions as explained in two or more news articles; avoided errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics
  • Two points: correctly identified a state law that the Supreme Court found in violation of the Bill of Rights; adequately summarized the majority and minority opinions as explained in two news articles; made some errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics
  • One point: with additional help, correctly identified a state law that the Supreme Court found in violation of the Bill of Rights; inadequately reported on the majority and minority opinions; made many errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics
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Poll on the Issues
Divide your students into four groups, and assign each group one of the following famous Supreme Court cases:
  • Tinker v. Des Moines (1969; student protest)
  • Texas v. Johnson (1989; flag burning)
  • Miranda v. Arizona (1966; rights of the accused)
  • Westside Community Schools v. Mergens (1990; Bible study in the schools)
Ask each group to work together to write a two-paragraph summary of the arguments both sides presented to the Supreme Court in the case; the summary should not reveal the court’s decision.
When their paragraphs are complete, ask each group to write five or six multiple-choice questions about the issue behind the case. Each student in the group should poll at least five students outside class by first having them read the two-paragraph summary of the case and then having them answer the questionnaire. Your students should then tabulate the results to get a sense of what the student body at large thinks about the issue underlying the case. Conclude by asking each group to share orally its two-paragraph summary of the Supreme Court case and the results of the poll on that case. (If you have not screened the documentary for your students, these oral reports should announce the court’s decision on the case.)

Mock Supreme Court
Have your students use the library and the Internet to find out about laws in their state that pertain to the Bill of Rights. Such laws may involve guns, religious practices in public places, or the death penalty. Assign nine students to serve on a mock Supreme Court, and select one of the researched state laws for student attorneys to argue for upholding and for declaring unconstitutional. After the justices have had time to hear the arguments and deliberate, ask each one to write his or her opinion. Then tally the results, and announce them to the class.
This activity will work best if students have time to research the state law and arguments for and against the law. You can conduct mock hearings for a number of state laws, allowing students to take turns serving on the Supreme Court and as attorneys.

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Suggested Readings

The Supreme Court at Work
Joan Biskupic and Elder Witt. Congressional Quarterly, 1997.
This companion for students of Supreme Court history concentrates on foundations, traditions, and brief biographies of members of the court. It also provides a case and subject index, chronology of major decisions, and rules of the court.

The Supreme Court A to Z
Kenneth Jost, ed. Congressional Quarterly, 1998.
This is an easy-access reference guide to the U.S. Supreme Court. It provides an index, online sources, and bulletin board systems as well as an examination of the court’s history and its influence on society. Reading more about Mary Beth Tinker’s case encourages students to discuss First Amendment rights today.

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American Civil Liberties Union
This site offers extensive information on a number of issues related to civil liberties and individual rights.

Oyez, Oyez, Oyez
Get information on how the Supreme Court operates; read about all the cases in the video, and learn what oyez means all in one place.

Foundations of American Democracy
These are the Foundations of American Democracy pages of the American Strategy partnership. The Institute of Museum and Library Services, Constitutional Rights Foundation the American Association of Museums, and the Getty Information Institute are the organizing leaders of American Strategy.

Constitutional Rights Foundation
This site is a strong law-related education site with numerous links and a simulated case based on Mary Beth Tinker

The Freedom Forum
The Freedom Forum offers information and discussion on freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly and the First Amendment

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker   enclave
Definition: A distinct territorial, cultural, or social unit enclosed within or as if within foreign territory.
Context: We often hear about an ethnic enclave, populated by people of an ethnic minority, within a country containing a different ethnic majority.

speaker   Establishment Clause
Definition: A portion of the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights that reads as follows: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion …”
Context: The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment has been crucial in the debate about school prayer.

speaker   Miranda rights
Definition: The rights that a police officer must read to a person who is being arrested: “You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions. Anything you do or say may be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish. If you decide to answer questions now without an attorney present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney.”
Context: The Bill of Rights confers Miranda rights on everyone, even if it appears likely that they’ve committed a crime.

speaker   Supreme Court
Definition: The highest judicial tribunal in a political unit (as a nation or state).
Context: The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States and has the power to decide whether laws made by the federal, state, and local governments are constitutional.

speaker   totalitarianism
Definition: The political concept that the citizen should be totally subject to an absolute state authority.
Context: The Supreme Court ruled that schools are not “enclaves of totalitarianism.”

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning in Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: civics
Understands how the U.S. Constitution grants and distributes power and responsibilities to national and state government and how it seeks to prevent the abuse of power.
Understands how the overall design and specific features of the Constitution prevent the abuse of power by aggregating power at the national, state, and local levels to allow government to be responsive; by dispersing power among different levels of government to protect individual rights, promote the common good, and encourage citizen participation; and by using a system of checks and balances (e.g., separated institutions with shared powers; provisions for veto and impeachment; federalism; judicial review; the Bill of Rights).

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: civics
Understands the role and importance of law in the American constitutional system and issues regarding the judicial protection of individual rights.
Understands how the rule of law makes possible a system of ordered liberty that protects the basic rights of citizens.

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: civics
Understands issues regarding the proper scope and limits of rights and the relationships among personal, political, and economic rights.

Understands different positions on a contemporary conflict between rights such as one person’s right to free speech versus another person’s right to be heard.

Knows examples of situations in which personal, political, or economic rights are in conflict.

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: history
Understands economic, social, and cultural developments in the contemporary United States.
Understands major contemporary social issues and the groups involved (e.g., the current debate over affirmative action and to what degree affirmative action policies have reached their goals; the evolution of government support for the rights of the disabled; the emergence of the Gay Liberation Movement and civil rights of gay Americans; continuing debates over multiculturalism, bilingual education, and group identity and rights vs. individual rights and identity; successes and failures of the modern feminist movement).

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: history
Understands the institutions and practices of government created during the Revolution and how these elements were revised between 1787 and 1815 to create the foundation of the American political system based on the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Understands the Bill of Rights and various challenges to it (e.g., arguments by Federalists and Anti-Federalists over the need for a Bill of Rights, the Alien and Sedition Acts, recent court cases involving the Bill of Rights).

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Betsy Hedberg, former middle school teacher and current freelance curriculum writer and consultant.
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