Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Civil Rights and the Supreme Court
Diane Haywood
Time Frame:
One to two days for research and preparation and two to three days for presentations. Time at home for preparation. Presentations usually take 3-5 minutes per student with some additional time for clarification and questions. As an essay project, two to
Civil Rights

Grade Levels:
9, 10, 11, 12

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:
  • This lesson is an individual assignment with the student researching, evaluating and presenting a Landmark Supreme Court Case.  The lesson can focus on cases concerning only various civil rights or cross the space of US history tracing all the pivotal cases of US history and the growth of the Court as an equal branch of our government.  The student will be given time to research an assigned case, write up a “brief” of case information and either present the case to the class or write up the case as a research paper.  If you are using the presentation model-a different case for each student is ideal.  If you choose to cover only a few cases, the report model might serve best.  The students will use actual Supreme Court decisions to draw conclusions.

  • This lesson will allow students to analyze Court cases and use cases and the US Constitution to understand how our Judicial Branch functions as an equal part of our government. This is an especially relevant way to show growth and change within the Supreme Court. This can be used in either a government class as part of the Judicial Branch or as part of a US history class on civil rights.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:

  • MO Standards Goal 1:2-analyze information and present date
  • MO Standards Goal 2:1-develop a presentation
  • Mo Standards Goal 4-2-applyu rights of US citizens
  • Common core CCSS ELA Literacy RH11-122
  • Common Core CCSS ELA Literacy SL 9-104

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • Sunnylands video (optional) I use “Jury Selection: Edmonson v Leesville Concrete Company”-22 minute video as an introductory video to teach how to write their “brief” and present to class. www.SunnylandsClassroom.org
  • Any Supreme Court Case studies. 

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • Supreme Court cases-lists attached (the first list is limited to civil rights cases-the second is Landmark cases in chronological order-I always do presentations in chronological order to show growth and change of the Court)
  • www.oyez.org is a great site-all cases are available by year/case name and topic
  • www.casebriefs.com
  • Internet search of case (encourage students to look for edu and org sites) or teacher handout of each case.



Full description of activity or assignment.
  • Begin by explanation of assignment (choose either presentation model or essay model).  If using essay model-choose cases you will give to students.  Use either a limited number or a small list for class.  If using the presentation model, it is ideal to have one case per student.  When I want all cases presented, I present the extra cases so that all classes have needed data.  Assign (or allow volunteers) cases, hand out all worksheets and explain requirements and scoring guide.  I have individual copies of basic case law for each of my cases for students to use and return as a starting point for them (the case studies secondary sources).  Either play video and model a presentation of the case to class or read a short case as a class and model to class. (I have discovered the modeling allows my students to create better projects and require less prompting).  Provide internet time and/or time with paper cases for students to research and create their “brief”.  Teacher is available for questions, assistance and direction.  After time for at home or in school preparation of either paper or presentation-collect or begin presentations.  For classes of 20-26 I usually need 2-3 days for presentations. During presentations, each student is required to keep a log of cases including case, date, Constitutional question, vote, Majority decision, and implications on US law. 

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:
  • Because I use the presentation model, I use the attached scoring guide.  If you choose a written model, use an essay scoring guide of your choice. 
  • Final class discussion or written question-As we studied these cases, explain what you discovered about how our Justices interpreted the Constitution to expand and support civil rights for US citizens? 



NAME ___________________________



COURT CASE ___________________________________________  DATE ______________

FACTS OF THE CASE _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

CONSTITUTIONAL QUESTION ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

COURT VOTE  _____________    

MAJORITY DECISION    WRITTEN BY:_____________________________     ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

DISSENTING OPINION    YES ____  NO ____ (If there is a dissenting opinion-share here-include author)________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


HOW DID OR WILL THIS CASE DECISION CHANGE SOCIETY ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________



REFLECT ON WHAT YOU HAVE LEARNED ABOUT HOW THE CONSTITUTION HAS BEEN USED BY THE SUPREME COURT JUSTICES TO CRAFT AND CREATE EQUALITY/CHANGE IN US LAW VIA JUDICIAL REVIEW OF THE SUPREME COURT ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________





                3                                                              1-2                                                            0

Good volume-easily heard          Can be heard for most of             Student cannot be heard

  for all of presentation                     presentation                                     even when signaled by teacher


                2                                                                1                                                              0

Student looks to audience           Mostly looks to audience             Eyes do not leave notes


                4-5                                                          2-3                                                          0-1

Case prepared and on time         Shows evidence of some             Not presented on time

                                                                  Preparation-on time


                8-10                                                       4-7                                                          0-3

Facts of case well explained        Case facts generally clear             Case facts incorrect or poorly

                                                             and organized                                         shared with class


                3                                                              1                                                              0

Given                                                    One shared-but not both             Needed teacher to give to class


                2                                                              1                                                              0

Vote given                                          given with prompt by teacher    vote unable to be shared by student





                8-10                                                       4-7                                                          0-3

Section of Constitution used       Able to share section of                No clear understanding of

   clearly understood and                Constitution with help                    where in Constitution

shared with class                                                                                                 the Justices looked for decision


                4-5                                                          2-3                                                          0-1

Decision given/dissent shared   Decision or dissent shared           Decision or dissent shared

   well explained                                                   explanation requires some          not well explained

                                                                   assistance from teacher            


                8-10                                                       4-7                                                          0-3

Student gives plausible                 Student gives plausible                                 No effects of this decision given

   effects and real examples            effects but not examples





LIST OF CIVIL RIGHTS CASES  (others can be substituted by a search by category of the Court’s cases)                                     

                Dred Scott v Sanford                                                      Stanton v Stanton                                                           

                Plessy v Ferguson                                                            Duram v Missouri                                                            

                Brown v Board of Education                                        Orr v Orr                                             

                Gideon v Wainwright

                Loving v Virginia                                                                                                                               

                Heart of Atlanta Motel v US

                Miranda v Arizona                                                          

                Regents of U of C v Bakke                                                                           

                Plyler v Doe                                                                                       

                Roberts v US Jaycees                                                    

                Reed v Reed                                                                     

                International Union UAW v Johnson Controls    

                Shaw v Reno                                                                                     

              Board of Kyris Joel School Dist v Grumet                 

              Miranda v Arizona

                Phillip v Marin Marietta

                Frontiero v Richardson

                Pittsburgh Press V Pittsburgh Com Human Relations

                Gedulldig v Ariollo

                Kuhn v Shevin

                Corning Glass v Breman

                Weinberger v Wwissenfield

                Cleveland Board of Ed v LaFleur

                Taylor v Louisiana




Marbury v Madison                                                                        Aguilar v Felton                                                                

Martin v Hunter’s Lessee                                                             Hazelwood School Dist v Kuhlmeier

McCulloch v Maryland                                                                   Texas v Johnson

Dred Scott v Sanford                                                                      Board of Ed Westside Comm Schools v                                                                                                                                                   Mergens

Reynolds v United States                                                             Board of Ed Kiryas Joel School District                                                                                                                                                     v Grumet

Lochner v New York                                                                        Madsen v Women’s Health Center

Plessy v Ferguson

Schenck v United States

Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co v Sawyer

Brown v Board of Education

Gideon v Wainwright    

Miranda v Arizona

Loving v Virginia

Tinker v Des Moines Independent Public School

 Wisconsin v Yoder

Roe v Wade

US v Nixon

Gregg v Georgia

Regents of U CA v Bakke

Plyler v Doe

Roberts v US Jaycees

Central Hudson Gas & Electric v Public Service Commission