Essential Question: What influenced the design of the Supreme Court and their power to interpret the Constitution?



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Essential Question: What influenced the design of the Supreme Court and their power to interpret the Constitution?

Katherine Glorioso Brennan



Lesson Outline

*This assignment is designed for a 10th grade College Prep US1 class

Parts 1-3 may require 2 50 minute class periods.

1. In class read the documents, discuss and translate as needed

2. Have students answer the document based questions on their own before discussing responses

3. Discuss essential question and its relationship to the documents

4. Have students outline their responses. Encourage use of most of the documents in their response.

5. Students write draft(s) of their essay



Document #1 – Article 3 of the Constitution Sections 1 & 2, 1789

Section 1 - Judicial powers



The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behavior, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services a Compensation which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.

Section 2 - Trial by Jury, Original Jurisdiction, Jury Trials



The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority; to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls; to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction; to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party; to Controversies between two or more States; between a State and Citizens of another State; between Citizens of different States; between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.

In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the Supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before mentioned, the Supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.

Document based questions

Section 1


  1. How long is a judge’s term of service?

    1. How have you derived that conclusion?

  2. How might a judge be removed from office?

  3. Can a judges’ salary be lowered during their term?

  4. Which branch creates the lower courts?

    1. How does this illustrate a division of power?

Section 2

  1. Explain section 2 in your own words.

  2. What types of cases can the Supreme Court adjudicate?

  3. Can the Supreme Court make decisions on laws outside of a court case?

  4. Can the Supreme Court hear criminal cases?

  5. What do you think is original and appellate jurisdiction?

Discuss students thoughts the appointment of supreme court justices , their salaries,

Document #2 – The Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution (Article 6), 1789

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

Document based questions



  1. Explain the relationship between the constitution and other laws in your own words.

  2. What does “this constitution and the laws of the United States which shall be made in the pursuance thereof” mean?

Document #3 -Excerpt from Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 1992. 105-09. Print.

(See Separate Hand out)

Document based questions


  1. How can the denial of lifetime tenure effect the decisions of the judges?

    1. Consider How commissions were obtained / Serving at “the will of the crown”

  2. Who paid the salaries of the judges?

    1. Why would that matter?

    2. Why is it said that any judge who accepted such salary in an enemy to the constitution?

  3. Read page 108 1st paragraph “In New York…insisted on the legality of allowing jury decisions on matters of fact as well as law to be appealed to the governor and council.”

    1. Why did the public feel this was “arbitrary and scandalous in its deliberate subversion of the British Constitution?”

Document #4 – Excerpts from the Declaration of Independence

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

Document based questions



  1. What specific grievances are listed regarding the court system?

  2. How could these problems have been remedied by the King?

Document# 5 –Excerpt from Brutus No. 11, 1788

It is, moreover, of great importance, to examine with care the nature and extent of the judicial power, because those who are to be vested with it, are to be placed in a situation altogether unprecedented in a free country. They are to be rendered totally independent, both of the people and the legislature, both with respect to their offices and salaries. No errors they may commit can be corrected by any power above them, if any such power there be, nor can they be removed from office for making ever so many erroneous adjudications

Document based question



  1. According to the author(s) what is the unprecedented authority of the judiciary?

  2. What is the consequence if they make an error in judgment?

Document# 6–Excerpt from Brutus No. 15, 1788

judges under this constitution will controul the legislature, for the supreme court are authorised in the last resort, to determine what is the extent of the powers of the Congress; they are to give the constitution an explanation, and there is no power above them to set aside their judgment. The framers of this constitution appear to have followed that of the British, in rendering the judges independent, by granting them their offices during good behaviour, without following the constitution of England, in instituting a tribunal in which their errors may be corrected; and without adverting to this, that the judicial under this system have a power which is above the legislative, and which indeed transcends any power before given to a judicial by any free government under heaven.

Document based questions


  1. Why does the author(s) feel that the judicial branch will be superior to the legislature?

  2. In what way did the “framers of the constitution appear to have followed that of the British?”

  3. In what way did the framers differ from the constitution of England?

    1. Why does the author feel this is a problem?

Document #7 – Excerpts from Federalist Paper No. 78, 1788

Whoever attentively considers the different departments of power must perceive, that, in a government in which they are separated from each other, the judiciary, from the nature of its functions, will always be the least dangerous to the political rights of the Constitution; because it will be least in a capacity to annoy or injure them. The Executive not only dispenses the honors, but holds the sword of the community. The legislature not only commands the purse, but prescribes the rules by which the duties and rights of every citizen are to be regulated. The judiciary, on the contrary, has no influence over either the sword or the purse; no direction either of the strength or of the wealth of the society; and can take no active resolution whatever. It may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm even for the efficacy of its judgments.



There is no position which depends on clearer principles, than that every act of a delegated authority, contrary to the tenor of the commission under which it is exercised, is void. No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid.

the courts were designed to be an intermediate body between the people and the legislature, in order, among other things, to keep the latter within the limits assigned to their authority. The interpretation of the laws is the proper and peculiar province of the courts. A constitution is, in fact, and must be regarded by the judges, as a fundamental law. It therefore belongs to them to ascertain its meaning, as well as the meaning of any particular act proceeding from the legislative body.

Document based questions



  1. Explain Hamilton’s argument of the relationship of laws and the constitution.

    1. Can a law that contradicts the constitution be valid?

  2. Who does Hamilton feel has the authority to judge the constitutionality of federal laws?

    1. What is Hamilton’s justification for this?


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