Supreme Court Press

AP US Government and Politics

How liberal is the Supreme Court?

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  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. What most surprised you about this data?

  3. List one question you have about this chart:

  4. Whoa!!!! Did you know that William O. Douglas is the longest-serving United States Supreme Court Justice by time in office (13,358 days)!? But who exactly was this thrice-married, second-youngest-ever Justice William O. Douglas guy, what did he believe in, and what kind of rulings did he issue that made him so very extremely liberal?

  5. What story does this chart tell about the ideological leanings of the median justice?

  6. Why do you think that is?

  7. What is the main consequence of this story of judicial moderation?

  8. Explain whether this moderation is generally good or bad news.

  9. Identify one of the main principles of a judicial conservative:

  10. Identify one of the main principles of a judicial liberal:

  11. How does this chart reflect the ideas of checks and balances?

  12. If instead of our system of presidential appointments and senatorial approval, we simply voted for our Supreme Court Justices, how different do you think this chart would look?

  13. On the current court, who is the most liberal and who is the most conservative?

  14. Since this chart was produced, Justice Scalia has been replaced by Justice Gorsuch, not dramatically altering the ideological balance of the court. Now Justice Kennedy (often the swing vote) will possibly be replaced by Brett Kavanaugh, after which POTUS Trump will probably have one or two more Supreme Court picks before his second term of office ends on January 20, 2025. How do you imagine that will reshape the ideological balance of the court?

  15. Big question: Why do we even have a Supreme Court anyway? I mean, it's not very (little d) democratic!

  16. Based on this chart, about how long does the average Supreme Court Justice serve?

  17. Over time, do Supreme Court Justices tend to get more liberal or more conservative?

  18. Why do you think that is?

  19. What is a consequence of this tendency?

  20. What specific Justice most deviated from this trend during their time on the bench (Supreme Court)?

  21. If you were to be placed on the Supreme Court (don't get too excited yet. This is just hypothetical!) Where would you fall on the ideological spectrum?

Learning Extension

Don't forget, we're just talking about the Supreme Court here. POTUS Trump also gets to fill vacancies on the federal district and federal appeals courts. Here's what vacancies in those areas look like and how they compare to years past.

Action Extension

Ask your favorite Supreme Court Justice to write you a letter describing their judicial philosophy. The Supreme Court doesn't really do email but you can call or write them at

General Contact Information:

U.S. Mail:
Supreme Court of the United States
 1 First Street, NE
 Washington, DC 20543

Telephone: 202-479-3000
TTY: 202-479-3472
 (Available M-F 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. eastern)

Share their response in class or online.

 

Animal Extension

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SCOTUS 4EVR

When you think about the Supreme Court, you probably think, OLD. But current SCOTUS nominee Brett Kananaugh is only 53. Since 2000, what has been the average age of a nominee to the Supreme Court?

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. What has happened to the age of SCOTUS nominees over the past century?

  3. Why do you think that is?

  4. What is consequence of this change?

  5. A newborn would be too young (although not according to the Constitution) to be on the SCOTUS, a 99 year-old would be too old (although, again, not according to the Constitution). What is the Goldilocks - just right - age for the Supreme Court of the United States? In other words, if you were a POTUS picking a SCOTUS nominee, what age range would the perfect nominee come from?

  6. According to Article II, Section 2 of the US Constitution, who gets to nominate members of the Supreme Court?

  7. Why don't POTUSs pick 20 year olds for the Supreme Court?

  8. Could POTUS Trump legally pick Ariana Grande to be a member of SCOTUS?

  9. According to the United States Constitution, what are the requirements for becoming a member of the SCOTUS?

  10. According to the words of the Constitution, what is the job of the Senate in approving SCOTUS nominees?

  11. What qualities are most necessary to be appointed to SCOTUS?

  12. Currently, what is the lifespan of the average Supreme Court member?

  13. Currently, what is the average tenure of a member of the Supreme Court of the United States?

  14. Don't forget the GoPo naming contest we started yesterday in honor of not-Justice Bork: Take a famous politician (Ryan, Trump, McConnell, Pelosi, Obama, Schumer) and make a verb out of their name. Write a sentence using their name as a verb and post it in the comments section below. The "best" sentence (by either a student or a teacher) will win a $10 Amazon gift card.*

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Learning Extension

Read this NY Times Upshot article about why Supreme Court Justices are serving longer than ever.

Action Extension

Watch some of the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings/Circus, contact your U.S. Senator and tell them whether you think they should approve Kavanaugh's nomination.

*Contest rules - I determine what "best" means! I will accept answers through Sunday, September 9th, 2018 by 8:32 pm.

Confirmation Bias Hearings

In his 1941 Supreme Court confirmation hearing, Justice-to-be Robert Houghwout Jackson was asked about to comment on three different political topics/issues. How many topics/issues was Justice Kagan asked to comment on in her 2010 confirmation hearing?

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. how many topics and issues do you think Justice-to-be Kavanaugh will be asked in his confirmation hearing?

  3. Do you think that all these questions about all these topics actually make a difference in selecting good justices?

  4. What trend do you see in the data from the chart?

  5. Explain the cause of the trend you identified.

  6. Describe one consequence of this trend you identified in the data.

  7. Do we have a good system for picking justices-who serve un-elected for life?

  8. How democratic (with a little d) is this entire justice-confirmation process?

  9. What would the perfect number of topics/issues to ask a nominee be?

  10. If you could, how would you changed the confirmation process?

  11. How likely do you think it is that a single Democrat will vote for Kavanaugh or that a single Republican will vote against him?

  12. In what way is the current confirmation hearing an example of checks and balances?

  13. What would Federalist 51 have said about

  14. In 1987, at his failed confirmation hearings Robert Bork actually answered the questions he was asked in long and voluminous comments. He was NOT confirmed to the Supreme Court (fun fact, ushering in the nomination of quiet-Justice Kennedy, whose Supreme Court seat we are now filling). Robert Bork's failed nomination spawned the verb: to Bork, meaning to talk to much; to say too much about what you really believe; to reject someone who says too much.

  15. Have you ever been Borked?

  16. Will there be a new verb formed to be Kavanaugh? Make up your own definition:

  17. take another famous politician (Ryan, Trump, McConnell, Pelosi, Obama, Schumer) and make a verb out of their name. Write a sentence using their name as a verb and post it in the comments section below. The "best" sentence (by either a student or a teacher) will win a $10 Amazon gift card.*

Learning Extension

Read this 538 article about Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings.

Action Extension

Watch some of the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, contact your U.S. Senator and tell them whether you think they should approve his nomination.

*Contest rules - I determine what "best" means! I will accept answers through Sunday, September 9th, 2018 by 8:32 pm.