US Supreme Court Cases Through History


Teacher:  Stephanie Berry

Ages:   12+

Homework:  YES!   This is a reading and project based class.  Kids will demonstrate an understanding of our history in a variety of ways, from caricatures, cartoons, powerpoints, essays, photo essays and more.   Plan on 60 minutes of homework / week, although it is all dependent on how much they want to embrace each project.   Projects are outlined in the class description below.

Mat Fees:  $30

Cost:  $256 or $64/month for 4 months



How important are our Supreme Court cases to an understanding of American History?   As it turns out - these cases help us understand our history and our culture more than you might think!   We will start with an understanding of our Constitutution and Bill of Rights, how Justices are placed on the Supreme Court, our current Supreme Court and the most famous of our previous Justices.   Then we'll launch into the following cases, which will be done in chronological order:


The 14th Amendment forbids states from denying any person "life, liberty or property, without due process of law" or to "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” This amendment expanded the protection of civil rights to all Americans and is cited in more litigation than any other amendment.  To understand how this amendment is related to equality in education, we will learn about the following cases:

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), Brown v. Board of Education (1954), U of California v. Bakke (1978) and U of Texas v. Fisher (2015) - Is this such a thing as separate but equal as it relates to education?  While American History normally focuses on Brown v. Board of Education when we talk about education and racial segregation or preference, the conversation needs to include Plessy v. Ferguson where our Supreme Court ruled for equality through separateness, and plunged America into decades of racial segregation, along with the more recent UC v. Bakke and  U of Texas v. Fisher.  Only through the highly controversial Brown v. Board of Education did segregation "officially" end.   But has it?  Does America still have segregated schools?  Is Affirmative Action working?  We'll spend time exploring these court cases through books, articles and movies, and then broaden our understanding by looking at the current landscape of public education through reading statistical graphs and charts and reading about current events in American education.   Our culminating project will be a photo essay of segregation in American education from 1892 - 2016.


We all know and value our right to Free Speech - it is one of the hallmarks of being an American and a freedom seldom seen in other countries.   But what is the history of this important freedom?   We'll look at the 1st Amendment to understand what our Constitution actually says, and then analyze New York Times v. Sullivan (1964), New York Times Co v U.S. (1971), Texas v. Johnson (1989) to see how this right has been challenged, why flag burning is supported by the law of our land, and what protections Americans have as it relates to private data collection.  There have been a number of cases in our lower courts, and it is expected that in the near future, the Supreme Court will be asked to define how our government is allowed to collect data about citizens.   We'll briefly look at pivotal players in this ongoing saga, from Daniel Ellsberg to Julian Assange (wiki leaks) and Edward Snowden.   Our culminating project on this part of our learning will include a debate on privacy and free speech, a survey on how Americans feel about their right to privacy, and posters helping people understand what is legal and what is not as it relates to free speech in America and in other countries that do not enjoy this same right.


We'll also look at the rights of those being placed under arrest in Miranda v. Arizona (1966), and how evidence of criminal acts are allowed to be found and collected in Mapp v. Ohio (1961).   Kids will really enjoy learning about Riley v. California (2014), a case that decides if your cellphone can be used against you.


With our election coming up, it only makes sense to look at several aspects of voting and campaigning in America.  In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) -  we look at a case devoted to determining how candidates can be funded.   From Nixon's famous (and unconstitutional)  "Milk Money" campaign contribution to our 2010 case which President Obama claimed will open the floodgates of special interests into the political campaign landscape, we'll look at how campaigns can get financed, and how that can affect the outcome of an election.   We'll briefly look at hanging chads in Bush v. Gore (2000) and Shelby County v. Holder (2013) where the Supreme Court ruled that voting rights measures from the civil rights era are no longer necessary.    Our final project will include a look at campaign financing for our top Presidential Candidates and statistical analysis of how that is historically related to campaign success.