Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Judiciary and the Court

Part One of Four

Wow...what an historic week! Since my last message to you, a new president has been sworn in, twice, and has claimed his seat in the Oval Office. His first week was busy with the affairs of state including issuing important Executive Orders, talking with foreign heads of state, and watching the confirmation of his Cabinet by the Senate. Wow!!! As government teachers we have to be loving it. But as the first 100 Days grind on and the pundits begin the critiques, we must move on in the curriculum and make sure we are getting our job done and preparing the kids for the AP Exam in May.

Speaking of which, I was selected to be an AP Exam Reader again this year after a one year hiatus. I will be heading to Daytona Beach on June 1, ready and eager to rate YOUR STUDENT'S essay. If you have applied as a reader and have accepted the position, be sure to look me up in Daytona...after 5:00 pm I'll be on the beach earning my well deserved rest for the day.

I am planning this year to do a daily log blog from the Daytona grading site, letting all of you in on the process of rating the Exam, interviews with the rating leaders and ETS, and the latest information from College Board and ETS. More on this later.

This week I would like to introduce the topic for the next four weeks; the Federal Court system, the judiciary, and the Supreme Court. Looking back over the last number of years, several of the Free Response questions have been generated from this area including: 2001 question #3, 2002 question #2, 2005 questions #1 and #3, and 2007 question #2. Betting against having a Court question isn't a wise decision...we always should be prepared on this subject. So, for the next few weeks I would like to walk you through a few areas that I especially like to look at and review the students on. These will include the Justices of the Supreme Court, important cases the Court has decided over the last 220 years, the concept of Judicial Review including the concepts of Activism vs. Restraint and Constructionism.

One point I like to make with students is the demystification of the Court. No other branch of the government works in such secrecy and literally behind closed doors as does the Court. Those nine wise people make fateful decisions in a manner most Americans are ignorant of. One way to "expose" the Court is through video, and my favorite on this subject is "Gideon's Trumpet". I discussed this film in a previous blog (see the hyperlink). This movie can have two big teaching objectives. First, it can teach the ins and outs of the Gideon case (a favorite of the AP Exam); and second, it can teach the ins and outs of how the Court functions. For a couple of hours investment in time you get a big bang for your "bucks".

Of course there are a ton of great books on the Court. A new one I asked for and Santa was nice enough to deliver was The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin. I have just started on this book, but it promises to be an excellent source of information on the "Bush" Court including Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito. I like the short chapters in this book that are great for student readings in or out of class. The hyperlink on this book takes you to an NPR site with reviews, an interview with Toobin you can listen to, and an excerpt from the is worth taking a few minutes on. Other good selections are Bob Woodward's The Brethren, and the classic Lawrence Baum's The Supreme Court, now in it's Ninth Edition. Most of these are way to much for the students to tackle in a semester along with everything else we must demand of them, but these are great background books for teachers and can be used selectively for short readings.

Next week I will give you a short discussion on the Justices of the current Court and do a little speculating on changes we might see during the Obama administration. I hope you continue to enjoy watching the Obama administration form and make decisions that will change the future course of American History. What a great time to be in our trade :) ! Until then...

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