Resources for Studying the Supreme Court

Resources for Studying the Supreme Court

With elections finally behind us, many will shift their attention toward the next Supreme Court nomination. It is the perfect time to expand our families’ understanding of this important institution. I’ve got two great resources to help get you started—Our Supreme Court, A History with 14 Activities by Richard Panchyk, written for grade levels 5 and up and Jeffry D. Stock’s Supreme Court Decision: Scenarios, Simulations and Activities for Understanding and Evaluating 14 Landmark Court Cases, written for grades 7 to 12. 

Our Supreme Court is part of the fabulous “For Kids” series published by the Chicago Review Press. Divided into eight chapters, author Richard Panchyk introduces readers to such topics as the founding of the courts, free speech and freedom of religion, civil rights, criminal justice, and regulation of business and property rights. Presenting Supreme Court cases chronologically, Panchyk demonstrates the ways that U.S. court opinions have evolved over time.

 An especially interesting feature of this book is its interviews with 35 individuals, each involved in landmark court decisions. These include talks with former Secretary of State and Secretary of the Treasury James Baker as well as David Boies, lead counsel for Vice President Al Gore in Bush v. Gore (2000). Fourteen unique activity ideas, including making a Supreme Court scrapbook, being a courtroom artist, role playing, and creating a neighborhood zoning map are also included in this book.

The text in Our Supreme Court is substantive and full of detail. This is a resource most suited for students intrinsically motivated to learn more about this subject matter. Panchyk’s book is not another dry text book. Well placed text boxes, interesting photography, engaging writing, and opportunities for student engagement make this an appealing, informative guide.

Written for children 10 to 17, Our Supreme Court could be easily adapted to teach multi-aged learners and would work equally well at home or in a larger group setting. Pancyk’s book retails for $16.95 and is available online and in bookstores. 

    In the opening pages of Jeffrey Stock’s Supreme Court Decisions: Scenarios, Simulations and Activities for Understanding and Evaluating 14 Landmark Cases, the author writes that his intention is “to teach students about important Supreme Court cases and to help them to think critically about the major historical decisions that have shaped the development of the United States.”  Supreme Court Decisions is lets students interact with specific landmark cases in order to understand the imprint they have left on the evolution of our legal system.

 Stock does not expect his book to be used as a stand-alone text. For a deeper understanding of the complex legal issues referenced in Supreme Court Decisions, he recommends exploring additional resources. Our Supreme Court would complement Stock’s work nicely.   

    As in Our Supreme Court, cases in Stock’s book are presented in chronological order.  Each of the 14 cases is presented in a single chapter. At the start of each section helpful notes under the headings “Quick Reference” and “Background” are provided for instructors. “Quick Reference” succinctly identifies the issue, the players, the ruling, and the significance of the specific case. The “Background” section provides the instructor with historical context and additional information about the case. Both sections are brief and do not require extensive time for preparation.  

The student section is divided into two parts. Section one provides a fictional vignette or scenario depicting the circumstances surrounding a specific case. Thoughtful discussion questions follow each vignette. Students are asked to identify what major issues need to be settled, discuss the facts as they’ve been presented, and to anticipate the court’s response. 

In Section two of the student section the actual case is presented followed by a write-up of the court’s actual ruling and the aftermath of the decision. Lastly, readers are asked to consider how the particular ruling is still relevant today. 

Ideas for 15 follow-up activities, which can be used with any of the 14 cases presented, are also provided. These include writing a letter to the editor in response to a specific verdict, creating a flow chart that shows how a case wound up in the Supreme Court, making a political cartoon, and creating a television news report that describes a Supreme Court ruling.

Stock’s writing is lean. Adroitly condensing multifaceted concepts and details, he delivers information with a straightforward style that most students will appreciate. Supreme Court Decisions is an extremely flexible resource that suits a variety of learning styles. Depending on your child’s level of interest, you may choose to study all 14 cases and attempt all of the activities. On the other hand, you may simply wish to familiarize your child with a more basic understanding of how the Supreme Court functions. It may be enough to review a small sampling of the cases Stock presents here.  

Supreme Court Decision is 98 pages. It retails for $19.95 and is available online at Prufrock Press and in bookstores.

Homeschooling provides families the chance to explore whatever issues seem most significant at a particular point in time. An extra special bonus is discovering great resources, like the ones I’ve described here, which address these interests and also help our children to better understand the complicated world in which they live.