Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Last of the Bill of Rights

A Quick look at the 8th, 9th, and 10th Amendments

This is the last week I will dedicate to the Bill of Rights. Mainly this week I will discuss the 8th Amendment and in particular the cases dealing with cruel and unusual punishment. A quick couple of comments on the 9th and 10th Amendments and we are done!!!

The students should know the entire Bill of Rights! However, it would be accurate to say that parts of the Bill of Rights are somewhat ignored by the AP Exam. For instance (and concerning the 8th Amendment), I know of no time in recent years when a question on bail has been asked. Nor has the excessive fines clause been a topic of much concern. Teach this stuff, but don't over teach it.

Cruel and unusual punishment, however, has received some notice. This of course concerns the death penalty. I would not be surprised to see (in the next few years) a Free Response Question concerning some aspect of this. The death penalty has been in the news and in the Court a great deal in the last few years and could be on the minds of those constructing potential questions for the Exam. I try to avoid guessing what College Board is asking, but it doesn't hurt to try to think like test makers and cover your bases.

Those bases as far as Court cases are concerned are fairly limited. I think it is essential to cover Furman v. Georgia. The Supreme Court basically ended the death penalty due to the capricious nature of sentencing in Georgia and other states. Most states responded by enacting a bifurcated trial system. This was tested in Gregg v. Georgia and the Court responded by saying that while the death penalty was extreme, the two trial system ended the arbitrary nature of sentencing and thus the punishment could be carried out with Court approval. At least part of the Court's approval.

Since this time, many states have allowed the death penalty to be a part of their punishment for murder and rape. My home state passed a death penalty in 1994, but has yet to carry out the punishment. We have a fairly large number of persons on death row, and within the last couple of weeks we added two more. The state is considering ending the death penalty however due to cost which amount to about 70% more than non-death penalty cases that are similar. Obviously this is a controversial topic and one AP might pick up on.

As far as the 9th Amendment is concerned, the issue of Privacy is the most important. Of course the two major cases are Griswold v. Connecticut and Roe v. Wade. You need to run the kids through these and they should understand the Court's logic. It is always possible to see a privacy question on the Exam, but I wonder if AP doesn't stay away from Roe due to the explosive nature of the topic. Is there a more knee jerking issue in America today?

The 10th Amendment needs to be covered and explained, but we should have covered this fairly well in the Federalism Unit. I always revisit the 10th and really emphasis how the central issue in many incorporation cases became a battle between the 10th and the 14th Amendments.

My deepest apologies to my faithful readers if this long discussion has killed your interest in this blog. I promise this is the last time that I subject us to such a tedious discussion over so many weeks. I did it to help the newest of the AP teachers who are wondering what to cover and what they can pass over. I hope for the new teachers, this was a helpful instrument.

Next week my discussion is on the actual writing of the Free Response answers. From a Readers view point, what are the do's and don'ts for the students. I will share with you things that the Readers really love to see, and the things that will hurt your student's chances of getting maximum points on their answers. Until then...

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