Every year the Supreme Court hears dozens of cases related to key constitutional issues. These cases can be used to teach enduring concepts in government and law. In this lesson, students will learn about important concepts in amendment law and stage a mock Supreme Court oral argument in small groups.
Select either an historical case or a fictitious case. I have use both types of cases. I lean towards using the fictitious case it allows the students to evaluate and create their own arguments without the influence of the actually trial arguments. In the Resources section I have included a fictitious case and a eBook of historical cases.
The students will need to become familiar with the question. After reading the case they should be able to articulate the following questions:
- What happened in this case?
- Who are the people/organizations/companies involved?
- How did the lower court rule on this case?
- Who is the petitioner and who is the respondent?
Divide the students equally into Petitioner and Respondent Attorneys and Supreme Court Judges. I normally equally divide them however making sure I have an odd number of supreme court judges (five or seven students depending on the size of the class).
The petitioner are responsible for defending the petitioner. Each lawyer is giving a role. One to produce an opening statement and each of the others will answer a question giving by the Justices. They need to focus on what constitutional issues were violated and why.
The respondent are responsible for defending the respondent positions. Each lawyer is giving a role. One to produce an opening statement and each of the others will answer a question giving by the Justices. They need to focus on why the respondent did not violate the constitution.
Supreme Court Judges
The justices will read the brief and generate a list of questions of the petitioner and respondent lawyers.
Each group should meet to prepare their arguments, as well as preparing for potential questions from the justices. (I normally allocate one class period for this) The team should select one “lawyer” for their opening argument. The remaining students can serve as assistant counsel, and will provide responses to key questions form the justices.
When preparing the arguments, the students should focus on the following:
- What does each side (party) want?
- What are the arguments in favor of and against each side?
- Which arguments are the most persuasive? Why?
- What are the legal precedents and how do they influence this case? (A precedent is a previously decided case recognized as the authority for future cases on that issue. Using precedents allows for the development of more sophisticated arguments.)
- What might be the consequences of each possible decision? To each side? To society?
- Are there any alternatives besides what each side is demanding?
Explain to each team that the justices may ask questions at any time, including while presenting arguments. They should respond to the questions to the best of their ability.
- The Judges select a Chief Justice. The Chief Justice runs the trial.
- Bailiff introduces the court.
- The Chief Justice runs the trial
|Opening Statements||Petitioner||4 minutes|
|Opening Statements||Respondent||4 minutes|
Each side gets three minutes for its basic argument and two minutes for rebuttal. The justice may ask questions at any time in an effort to clarify the arguments. Time continues to run as the justice interrupts to ask questions.