The Supreme Court

These resources from the award-winning PBS series The Supreme Court chart the Court’s unique evolution through archival footage, graphic techniques and interviews with legal historians and experts. Together, they help unfold complex legal concepts and key Constitutional issues. Explore the personalities and beliefs of individual Supreme Court justices as well as the dynamic social and political forces that have and continue to shape legal precedent in the United States.

  • The Meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment

    In this lesson, students analyze and compare important Supreme Court decisions involving the Fourteenth Amendment and civil rights. The Fourteenth Amendment was passed in 1868 shortly after the Civil War ended.  This time period is known as Reconstruction Era.  Two other amendments were passed shortly after the War,  the Thirteenth and Fifthteenth Amendments,  that extended civil rights to African Americans. 

    Grades: 9-12
  • Miranda v. Arizona

    In the landmark case Miranda v. Arizona, the Supreme Court ruled that anyone accused of a crime must be warned about the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. This video shows how the Miranda decision helped move the country from a state-based criminal justice system to one that has to conform with nationally imposed rules.

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Supreme Court | Minersville School District v. Gobitis: Lesson Plan

    In this lesson, based on the series The Supreme Court, students examine the Supreme Court’s evolution in its decisions to support individual liberties. Through a historic case study involving the Pledge of Allegiance, they will analyze First Amendment rights in light of laws passed to increase citizenship, knowledge of our country, and patriotism.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • The Supreme Court | Define and Classify the Powers Associated with Federalism: Lesson Plan

    In this lesson, students watch video segments from the series The Supreme Court as they explore how the Supreme Court defined the balance of power under federalism.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Marshall's View of Federalism

    The Founding Fathers reasoned that in creating a new nation there could be two distinct branches of government with overlapping powers: that of the individual states and that of a federal government. This video presents the evolution of John Marshall’s ideas about the importance of federal authority from his time as a soldier in the Revolutionary War to his tenure as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Supreme Court | Minersville School District v. Gobitis

    By 1940 the Supreme Court had yet to rule in favor of protecting individual rights. This practice continued in the flag salute case of Minersville School Board v. Gobitis. Although the Gobitas family, who were Jehovah’s Witnesses, sued and won the right for their children not to salute the flag in school, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court ruling. This video segment, from the series The Supreme Court, explores the reasons for and the aftermath of the Court’s momentous decision in this case.

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Supreme Court | The Importance of Precedent in the Decisons of the Supreme Court: Lesson Plan

    In this lesson, based on the series The Supreme Court, students define the terms precedent and stare decisis.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • The Supreme Court | The Civil Rights Cases

    In 1883, the Supreme Court struck down the Civil Rights Cases of 1875. As the nation grew weary of Reconstruction, the Supreme Court followed suit, ruling that while the Fourteenth Amendment protected an individual’s rights in places of public accommodation, it would not protect citizens from the discriminatory behavior of individuals. This video, from the series The Supreme Court, explores the case that led to the Court’s first great dissent, its first great dissenter, and the end of Reconstruction.

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Fourteenth Amendment - Part I

    By the end of the Civil War, the Union victory over the Confederate states marked a dramatic change in American history with the abolition of slavery and new amendments written into the U.S. Constitution. Passed in 1868, the 14th Amendment gave Congress special powers to protect and enforce the rights of former slaves in Southern states that adopted the greatest resistance to the new set of liberties afforded African Americans through citizenship. In this first of two video segments from The Supreme Court, learn how the nine justices evolved in their decisions to interpret the 14th Amendment as the nation moved forward after the war. To learn more, see “The Fourteenth Amendment - Part II.”

    Grades: 7-12
  • The Supreme Court | Liberty of Contract: Lesson Plan

    In this lesson, from series The Supreme Court, students examine how the Supreme Court applied the Fourteenth Amendment to questions involving the liberty of contract and protections for working people.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • The Fourteenth Amendment - Part II

    After years of radical republicans in Congress working to ensure the protection of the blacks in the South to gain education, buy property, marry, run for office, and vote, white Southerners as well as Northerners tired of Reconstruction. This shift in attitude was acknowledged and echoed by all but one justice on the Supreme Court in their decision in 1883 to render in instances of violation of civil liberties that “individual behaviors do not offend the Constitution. This decision marked the end of federal protections for individuals in states and the beginning of Jim Crow segregation. In the second of two video segments from The Supreme Court, learn how this momentous decision evolved. To learn more, see "The Fourteenth Amendment - Part I."

    Grades: 7-12
  • The Supreme Court | Worker's Rights

    In the case of Lochner v. New York, Justice Stephen Fields established the legal theory of “liberty of contract.” According to this theory, government should not and cannot interfere with business contracts, including agreements about wages made between employers and employees. This video, from the series The Supreme Court, gives background on the case and shows how the idea of liberty of contract was derived from the Due Process Clause in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Supreme Court | Civil Rights and Civil Liberties: Lesson Plan

    In this lesson, based on the series The Supreme Court, students examine the basic American principles of civil liberties within the context of World War II.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • Griswold v. Connecticut

    In 1965, it was illegal in the state of Connecticut to provide contraceptives or offer advice about them, even to married couples. This video follows the landmark Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut, when for the first time the Court tackled what was viewed as a “right to privacy” issue, ruling that Connecticut's ban on the use of contraceptives violated the right to marital privacy.

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Supreme Court | FDR and the Court

    In 1937 when Elsie Parrish, a maid for the West Coast Hotels in Washington State, sued for back wages based upon the state minimum wage, her employer argued for “liberty of contract.” With the economic challenges of the Depression as a factor and in a true reversal from previous trends, the Supreme Court abandoned strict ideas regarding “free market” protectionism at the expense of individual workers and ruled on the side of Parrish. This video explores the Court’s evolution to accepting President Roosevelt’s New Deal and considering fair labor practices.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Nixon and the Court | The Supreme Court

    In his campaign for president, Richard Nixon promised to respond to the social upheaval of the 1960’s with a return to order, law enforcement and conservative rulings. This video presents Nixon’s strategy to reconfigure the Supreme Court by appointing “strict constructionists,” justices with conservative backgrounds who would render the most literal interpretation of the Constitution.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Analyzing McCulloch v. Maryland

    In this lesson, students watch a video segment from the PBS series The Supreme Court about the landmark case Maryland v. McCulloch while considering the powers of the national government and state governments. John Marshall, the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, played a key role in this case.  Students will learn how he helped lay the foundations of American government.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Rehnquist’s Views on the Miranda Decision

    The selection of William Rehnquist in 1972 was an important part of President Nixon’s strategy for returning conservative justices to the Supreme Court. The Miranda decision was among many Warren Court rulings Justice Rehnquist detested, especially as it related to government interference in local police affairs. This video chronicles the views Rehnquist held of Miranda in the 1970’s as an ironic forecast to his future ruling on a similar issue in the case of Dickerson v. The United States.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Explicit and Implicit Language – Interpreting the Meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment

    Students watch two video segments about the Fourteenth Amendment and then write an essay addressing where the amendment is explicit or implicit in meaning.

    Grades: 6-8
  • Understanding and Applying the Miranda Decision

    In this lesson students learn about the Supreme Court's decision in Miranda v. Arizona (1966). This case created the law that police have to read someone their rights before they are arrested, this includes the right to a lawyer.  They will use what they have learn and decide what they would have done in real, recent cases. One case, Yarborough v. Alvarado (2004), affects the rights of juveniles.

    Grades: 9-12