Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ripped From the Headlines--Incorporation and the 2nd Amendment

The Court, Incorporation, and the 2nd Amendment

Reference CNN Page:

Reference Chicago Tribune:,0,3152673.story

Hippocampus: Lesson 6, Lesson 28, Lesson 30, Lesson 32

Sometimes news stories can really pull together many of the concepts we try to teach. This Tuesday the Supreme Court will be hearing the case of McDonald v. the City of Chicago, a 2nd Amendment issue. McDonald is asking the Court to strike down a city gun ban that would have far reaching effects on municipalities and states. In effect, the Court has been asked to incorporate the 2nd Amendment. No fewer than 49 amicus curiae have been filed in this case. The Supreme Court last year decided on a Washington, D.C. gun ordinance. Now many are wondering if the Court will reverse 140 years of precedent and open the door to new rights in gun ownership.

For teachers of APGOPO, this case offers a unique look at not only the Court, but also the concept of incorporation. There are several things one could do with this case. In my class, I will have the students do a short Internet research on the history of gun cases in the Supreme Court starting with the Presser case and ending with the Heller case. I will then have them present the findings of the Court in class in each of the cases that they find. We will then follow this case's oral arguments and see what basis the Court will use to determine if the 2nd Amendment is to be incorporated.

Historically, the 14th Amendment has been the justification for incorporation. Will that hold true in this case? When the Court releases its findings and the opinions are brought down, we will ultimately read the opinions and glean the Constitutional issues the Court used in its decisions. This is case will most likely produce not only a majority opinion, but also concurring and minority opinions. It should be a textbook in Constitutional reasoning and justification.

We seldom have an opportunity to watch the incorporation of a right. Since the Warren Court in the 1950s and 1960s, those few provisions of the original Bill of Rights not incorporated have been off limits to the Court. McDonald v. City of Chicago offers us a rare glimpse of incorporation of a right in the making. Some have even suggested that the Court could overturn the Slaughterhouse Case (Hippocampus Lesson 32), rendering the concept of selective incorporation obsolete and radically changing American jurisprudence.

This case can be used in several places within the Hippocampus curriculum. Early on in the year it can be used with Underpinnings Unit in Lesson 6. In Lesson 28 on the Court you could use this case to demonstrate how the Court finds and accepts cases as well as looking at the process of making decisions and rendering the opinions. Lesson 30 concerning judicial review could also benefit from using this case. In addition (and possibly most importantly), it can be used along with Lesson 32 on the concept of selective incorporation.

Depending on how the Court finds following the March 2nd oral arguments, McDonald v City of Chicago might become as important of a case as Mapp v. Ohio, Gideon v. Wainwright, or Miranda v. Arizona to those of us teaching APGOPO. Its probably a good time now to add it to your curriculum.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ripped from the Headlines--Justice Stevens

Justice Stevens and the selection of a New Justice

Reference: CNN page:

Hippocampus Connection: Lesson 31

I want to take just a bit of your time this week and call your attention to this article that appeared on CNN on February 12th. I believe this to be a very solid article to use with classes for several reasons. First, it is extremely timely. The article which is speculating on who President Obama might favor the next Supreme Court seat, falls at a time when many of you who are teaching year long classes will be addressing the Judiciary unit. For those of you with 2nd semester classes, this unit should be right around the corner. So when I saw this article the other day I jumped on the chance of sharing it with you.

Second, when you do begin the Judiciary Unit, this article will really reinforce many of the terms and concepts found in Hippocampus. For example, the article discussing the vetting process that Mr. Obama's staff is already engaged in. This reinforces much of what your students will be viewing in Lesson 31. Again, it talks about the concept of "seats" ("One source said if Stevens were to retire, there would be less political pressure on Obama to name another woman to the court. Souter's exit led to universal agreement inside the White House that a woman should join Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then the lone female on the court, the sources said.") While the term "seat" is not directly used, the idea that the nation has expectations for a certain demographic make-up on the Court is clearly indicated.

The article also discusses what exactly the President is looking for as far a judicial experience and qualities (leadership, court experience, and political ideology). For example, "Judge Diane Wood, 59, of the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Many administration insiders believe she would be a strong intellectual force on the high court, where the newly emboldened conservative justices have achieved recent victories on campaign finance and gun rights, the sources said." The article discusses several of the key persons of interest to the White House and why they are a possible appointee.

Third, this article touches on the idea of activism and activist judges as seen in the following clip, "Liberal activists have generally applauded Sotomayor's history-making elevation to the high court, her inspiring story and reliable progressive votes so far on the bench." This would fit into the ideas presented in Lesson 30 in Hippocampus.

Here is how I will use this article in my class. I will print this article off (or have the students view it directly on line) and then give them a list of vocabulary terms used in Judiciary Unit making sure that these terms are found (in some way) in the article. I will then ask the students to match the quote from the article that alludes or refers to the term. My examples above for activism and "seats" would be examples of what the students should produce. This would be a way for the students to check themselves on the vocabulary and be sure they understand what is meant by a term or phrase.

I would make some of the terms difficult to locate. For example, if the term I gave the students was Confirmation Process I would expect them to use the following quote from the article, "And allies on the right seem confident that in an election year filled with legislative challenges, Obama could have a much harder time choosing a high court nominee with a clear liberal portfolio." This would clearly demonstrate to me that the student would understand the process and it's potential pitfalls for the executive branch.

A second way this article could be used is to ask students to imagine that they were President Obama and then decide which of the people in the article they would decide to nominate and explain why. This could be a short essay, a free response type answer, or even a short power point presentation.

I was reminded of the Harry Truman quote, "once you put a man on the Supreme Court he ceases to be your friend" upon seeing that Cass Sunstein, and old friend of Mr. Obama, is being considered. I wonder if Mr. Obama has ever seen that quote?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Ripped from the Headlines--The State of the Union Address 2010

The State of the Union Address 2010

Hippocampus connections: Lesson 5, Lesson 20

This year's State of the Union address brought several raised eyebrows and a good deal of morning quarterbacks with varying opinions of the president's speech before Congress. Mr. Obama concentrated on the topics of the budget, the economy, education, energy, health care, "don't ask, don't tell", and national security.

There are many ways you could use the State of the Union Address in class. I would avoid showing the students the entire speech. Class time is far to precious for this, especially when the speech runs over an hour as it did this year. I do believe you can encourage students to watch it or listen to it (as extra credit or a class assignment is great), but I find using selected clips from YouTube a much better use of the class time.

I also love what CNN did the next day with a nice combination of summary, key themes, reactions, and poll results. I really think that a solid lesson plan could be devised using the CNN site (hyperlinked above). In addition, CNN added Highlights of past SOTU Addresses and a fun interactive on-line quiz on what we know about the history or SOTU Addresses.

I would break my class into small groups and assign each group to read one of the themes (the budget, education, energy and so on) and then come back to the class and not only report on what the speech said, but also have the group give their opinion on this topic and how it would effect the state in which they live and their lives. They could spend 20-30 minutes doing a quick Internet search on the topic and make 5-10 minute presentations/discussions. This would be a great higher level thinking activity (on Bloom's taxonomy it would rate as evaluation and/or synthesis) and very appropriate for AP level students.

For example, if President Obama said he would like to give families tax credits for college expenses as well as increasing Pell Grant funds how would this effect your students? If the students come from wealthy families, this may not be as salient of an issue as it would be for students coming from lower income areas. And how would this education money be financed? Increased taxes? More national debt? Would Republicans and Democrats support such measures? If not, why?

The State of Union Address can fit into the Hippocampus curriculum in several places. The two most natural would be at the beginning of the year during Lesson 5 on the Constitution if you wanted to discuss enumerated duties of the president at this time. Better yet, during Lesson 20 this would fit nicely in the discussion of the president as Chief Legislator (page 10 of the text section on Expressed Roles). CNN keeps these pages up for a long time, so you don't have to use the State of the Union Address the week it actually takes place. This page should be available to you next year if you teach a year long class or later this semester if you teach a semester class and are now just coming to the executive branch unit.

As always, we must balance the time we spend on any one individual topic. With the institutions of government being up to 60 percent of the AP Exam, time spent on the State of the Union Address is probably justifiable. In the process of creating good citizens, it is very important. I would recommend squeezing this into your curriculum and considering it time well spent.