The Supreme Court of the United States is often seen as the most distant and befuddling branch for my students. Whether it is misunderstanding their unelected status, difficulty in discerning legal language, or simply confusion about how the federal courts function, students are often left with a disjointed understanding of the role of the Supreme Court in the policymaking process. While students may be familiar with the Supreme Court justices individually, they often struggle to critically evaluate the Court as an institution.


The attached project allows students to make sense of the Supreme Court as a pillar of our democracy in the context of an ongoing case. I use this activity every school year, identifying one case that is particularly relevant to the lives of students. Relevance is the cornerstone of student learning.


Students will eagerly jump into the case, looking at case law, amicus curiae briefs, transcripts from the court, and prior judicial behavior to get into the minds of the justices. By asking students to predict how both the courts and individual justices will rule, students will better be able to arrive at how the court functions and how the circumstances of each justice help shape their judicial behavior.


Students also enjoy the competitive aspect of trying to accurately determine the behavior of the Court. For the 2021–2022 school year, I chose New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Corlett, a case evaluating the 2nd Amendment and concealed carry permits. This was an easy decision as many students actively debate the issue of gun control. Another option for the 2021–2022 school year is Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, a case recently granted certiorari which may have an impact on Roe v. Wade.


When teaching into this project, it may be important to model how to analyze judicial behavior. Whether it is taking excerpts from the transcript, observing past judicial behavior, or simply providing a background into the justices, this moment of direct instruction can go a long way to help students better understand how legal scholars make sense of the Supreme Court.


Prior to this project, I will spend multiple days on Miller, Heller, and McDonald to give students an appreciation for how the courts have evolved on gun rights. Special attention will need to be paid to the concept of selective incorporation and how it is applied to the states.


Ultimately, our goal is to better prepare our students for their lives as citizens in a complex democracy. This student-centered project allows students to evaluate challenging materials using an issue they care deeply about. While the outcome of the case is unsettled and is seen by some legal experts as quite predictable given the solid conservative majority, this still holds a relevance to the lives of students and should be a case taught in the upcoming school year.




Pat Sprinkle is a 13th year history teacher at the NYC Lab School for Collaborative Studies, teaching AP® U.S. History and AP® U.S. Politics and Government. Pat is a graduate of The Ohio State University and Columbia University. Pat has served as a member of the Teacher Advisory Council for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, National Humanities Center, and the National Constitution Center. In addition, Pat was a 2013 James Madison Fellow along with a 2021 C-SPAN Fellow. Pat lives in Jersey City, New Jersey, with his wife, son (Franklin), and dog (Lyndon).