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?

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