Saturday, February 14, 2009

Court Cases to Better Understand the Court

A Short List of Must Learn Cases
I would like to complete my discussion of the Supreme Court. For the last couple of weeks I have discussed resources for teaching and learning about the court (Jan. 25 blog), teaching the ideas and concepts behind judicial activism and judicial construction (Feb. 1 blog), and last week we discussed the personalities in the Court and resources for studying these folks. If you missed these discussion and are interested, scroll down the page. This week I would like to complete this discussion by addressing a short list of cases that are "must learn" cases for the students.

Here is the caveat: while this is a relatively standard case list agreed on by most AP Government and Politics teachers, I sometimes wonder if we don't spend too much time with these cases. Mind you, I am not saying don't teach them, or don't expect the students to have at least a cursory understanding of their basic concepts. What I am saying is we need to balance the time we spend on case studies with the other aspects of the Court. I have been to numerous AP seminars where discussions on the Court turn strictly to case studies. For the last few years, I have noticed a diminishing number of cases quizzed on the exam and have had my students report that they feel they spent too much study time on cases that never appeared on the test. Especially the historic cases!

That said, I still think that to understand the Court is to understand to some extent the major cases. So here is my short list of cases that I am now concentrating on and asking the students to remember.

The Marshall Court
  1. Marbury vs. Madison...the case that established judicial review over Congress as the right of the Court.
  2. Martin vs. Hunter's Lessee...established judicial review over state legislatures.
  3. Fletcher vs. rights
  4. Dartmouth College...sanctity of contracts
  5. McCullough vs. Maryland...the so called Bank Case that established implied powers of the federal government
  6. Gibbons vs. Ogden...the so called Steamboat Case that established federal power over interstate commerce
  7. Barron vs. Baltimore...limits the Bill of Rights to the actions of the federal government and not the state and local governments
The Taney Court
  1. Dred Scott vs Sandford...defined citizenship excluding African Americans, declared slavery as property rights.
The Fuller Court
  1. Plessy vs. Ferguson...the separate but equal doctrine established allowing legal segregation
The White Court
  1. Schneck vs. US...the clear and present danger doctrine via Oliver Wendell Holmes
The Stone Court...
  1. Korematsu vs. US...allowed the internment of the Japaneses during WW II
The Warren Court
  1. Brown vs. BOE of Topeka, Kansas...ended the Plessy rule of separate but equal, called for the forced integration of public schools
  2. Engle vs Vitale...declares school prayer unconstitutional under the 1st Amendment
  3. Gideon vs. Wainwright...the right of an attorney in all state court cases
  4. Reynolds vs. man one vote in reapportionment cases
  5. Miranda vs. Arizona...rights must be read to defendants at the time of arrest...combines Gideon, Escobedo, and Miranda to come up with famous "right to remain silent...".
The Burger Court
  1. Bakke vs Regents of UC...affirmative action allowed but quotas not permitted.
  2. Roe vs. Wade...legalized abortion based on the 4th Amendment
  3. Gregg vs. Georgia...death penelty allowed with the model of two for guilt and one for sentencing used.
Rehnquist Court
  1. Bush vs. Gore...allowed recount of votes in Florida in effect deciding the 2000 election
You don't see your "favorite" cases to study? Go ahead and add it, but these twenty cases are a hand full for the students to remember, and we haven't even started on the incorporation and Bill of Rights cases that are also "must know" cases.

Case study is sort of a turkey shoot for both teachers and students. Many of us old timers remember the year that Wolf v. Colorado case crashed upon a Free Response question. We had all taught Mapp v. Ohio and Weaks vs US, but very few of us had attempted to explained the Wolf case to our classes. Why did ETS pick Wolf over Weaks or Mapp for pity sakes? Who'da thunk???? Not me!

Fortunately, the question gave several case options for students to pick from, and they were able to avoid a conversation on Wolf (which would have been short and not very pretty). Most often, on the Free Response questions the students do have options on cases to write on so the above list is almost sure to cover those options.

In the near future I will be discussing incorporation and the cases linked to incorporation. I will also be discussing Bill of Rights cases that are important to cover. These, for the most part, are in addition to the above list, so don't walk away from this blog and wonder how I could miss the obvious. The list above are cases I discuss when explaining the Court; how one Court can differ from another, and how the Court has changed historically. Here is my rule in all of this case study: Don't overwhelm the students with too many cases!!! I'll have more to come on this subject. Until then.....

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