The Subtitute Title: Understanding the Judicial System and Court Process

The Judicial System Lesson Plan

When people think of courtrooms, they may picture TV shows with someone being tried for a crime or being sued for owing money. But there is more to our court system than these two kinds of cases.

Use these resources to teach students about the judicial branch of government. Students can also practice essential literacy skills with these court-related activities.

The Judiciary Act of 1789

The Constitution called on Congress to “ordain and establish” a federal court system, but it did not include specifics about how many courts to create or their structure. One of the first orders of business for the new Senate, dominated by Federalists seeking a strong national government and Anti-Federalists defending state rights, was to draft legislation that would shape the nation’s judicial system.

The Judiciary Act of 1789 established the Supreme Court, the Circuit Courts and District Courts. The Act specified how many justices should be on the Supreme Court and provided for the creation of lower courts by region throughout the country. The Justices were required to “ride circuit,” visiting each court on a regular basis and presiding over them for a few weeks at a time.

The Act also established the roles of the Clerk of Court, United States Attorney and United States Marshals. These positions remain in place today, and the three-tiered structure of the federal court system remains unchanged.

The Federal Court System

The Constitution outlines the power and role of our federal courts. While the judicial branch operates separately from the legislative and executive branches, our government’s three elected branches often work together to meet the needs of the nation.

Congress established 94 district level trial courts and 13 circuit courts (intermediate appellate courts) in addition to the United States Supreme Court, which is the highest level of court. These courts are located throughout the country.

The Supreme Court’s role is to interpret federal laws and resolve disputes over their constitutionality, while lower level courts apply the law to specific cases. Judges and justices of the Supreme Court are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, and receive lifetime tenure unless removed from office through impeachment. Congress has the authority to create other specialized and lesser federal courts, such as those dealing with international trade, taxation, admiralty law, and veterans’ claims. These courts have limited jurisdictions and cannot review other decisions made by the Supreme Court.

The United States Supreme Court

The Supreme Court, the highest authority in the country’s judicial system, interprets the Constitution and its amendments. It reviews and overturns decisions from lower courts. It also has original jurisdiction in cases involving ambassadors and disputes between states.

In addition, the Supreme Court is responsible for filling vacancies on the court. The President nominates candidates to be justices and the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing where the nominee answers questions from senators. The Constitution sets a maximum number of justices on the Supreme Court, which has traditionally been nine.

Using the Constitution Explained video series, this lesson plan introduces learners to different levels of government, and teaches them how a case works its way through a court. It also guides students through an evaluation of news articles from well-known newspapers.

Go Home