Lynn Ann Wiscount, Erin Halovanic, Vince Mariner
History, U.S. History, Law
Material Type:
Lesson Plan, Primary Source
High School
  • POWER Library
  • social studies
  • social-studies
    Creative Commons Attribution

    Education Standards

    Landmark Supreme Court Cases

    Landmark Supreme Court Cases


    Students will learn the process a case goes through to get to the Supreme Court and why some cases are determined to be landmark cases.  Students will research various landmark cases in history and examine why the case was important and how it relates to the Constitution or one of the Amendments.  The students will then select one of the landmark cases and act it out in class. Students who portray the judges will use their own opinions to determine the case and then the group will discuss if the decision is the same as the original case or if it was different and what significance today's world played in that decision.

    Lesson Objectives

    Students will know / be able to...

    • Identify historical and case facts for various landmark cases.
    • Identify the main arguments put forth in various court cases.
    • Discuss the immediate and long-term outcomes of each court decision.


      Extended / Additional Activity:

      • Introduce students to what an IRAC is in law and explain that it is a method that is used to compose certain legal documents and reports.  You can have the students write about their court case using this method.  The IRAC method is:
        • I = Issue (Examine what the case is about)
        • R = Rule (Determine what rules are implicated by the facts and issues)
        • A = Analysis (Examine past cases and current facts)
        • C = Conclusion (Determine what the ruling is)
      • If you are planning on using the external / additional activity, an IRAC worksheet is included in the Resource Library

      Warm Up / Introduction

      Instructor Notes:

      • To introduce this lesson, have the students watch a video How a Case Gets to the US Supreme Court.
      • After the video discuss with the students what the rule of 4 is and the purpose of the petition of a writ of certiorari.
      • Discuss with your students that landmark cases are court cases that have historical and legal significance.  Most of these cases also have a lasting effect on your individual rights and liberties.
      • Discuss with your students that precedent provides an example for judges deciding similar issues at a later date. Any decision announced by a higher court must be followed in later cases.
      • Discuss with your students some of the more notable landmark court cases.  You can use the attached 25 Landmark Court Cases (PDF).


      • Watch the attached video to see how a case gets to the Supreme Court.
      • Discuss with the class what a landmark court case is and look at 25 of the most notable cases.


      Research / Explore Activity

      Instructor Notes:

      • Provide each student or group of students a landmark case to research.
      • Students should research the following:
        • The facts of the case.
        • The path the case took to get to the Supreme Court.
        • The arguments of both the plaintiff and defendant.
        • The date of the court case along with the majority vote, decision, and opinions.
        • Why the case was important and if it related to the Constitution or any of its Amendment.
      • Students will use the Case Brief Worksheet and the Day in Court Worksheet to record their findings.


      POWER Library eResources that can be used for this project:

      • POWER Library Gale Academic OneFile
      • POWER Library Academic Search Main Edition
      • POWER Library E-Books (EBSCO)
      • POWER Library Gale Topic Collections
        • Gale OneFile Criminal Justice
        • Gale OneFile U.S. History
      • POWER Library Gale E-Books
      • POWER Library Gale General OneFile
      • POWER Library Gale OneFile High School
      • POWER Library Gale In Context Middle School
      • POWER Library Gale OneFile News


      • You will be given a landmark court case to research.  Your research can be completed using the websites attached or others provided by your instructor.
      • Complete the Case Brief Worksheet and the Day in Court Worksheet with your findings.
      • Be prepared to teach the rest of the class about your landmark court case if it is selected for the following activity.

      Reinforcement / Creation Activity

      Instructor Notes:

      • As a group, select one of the cases to perform in class. The students who researched this case will teach the rest of the class the basics of the case. The students should not reveal the ruling of the case at this time.
      • Once the class has been provided the basics, select 9 students to be the "Justices" of the court with the remaining students being divided equally into two teams.  The teams will be playing the roles of the petitioner and the respondent.
      • The "Justices" will discuss and prepare questions they need answered to reach a decision.  They will also assign one person to play the role of the Chief Justice. If appropriate, the justices can use the IRAC Worksheet to record their information.
      • The "Petitioner" and "Respondents" should prepare their arguments for its side.  Each side should consider only the facts and not the accuracy of the facts.  They can use the Court Brief Worksheet they were provided as a reference for this activity. They should also discuss what questions they might be asked from the "Justices"
      • Setup the classroom to represent a courtroom with the "Justices" at the front of the room and the attorneys on opposite sides.
      • "Attorneys" will present the arguments for their side and allow time for rebuttals from the other side.  "Justices" can ask questions throughout this process.
      • Once all arguments and rebuttals are heard, the "Justices" will deliberate on a decision. Each "justice" will develop their own opinion on the case and prepare a statement as to why they decided that way.
      • The Chief Justice will do a role call and ask each justice how they decided. Each judge will also provide their statement and explanation as to why they made that decision. After you hear their decisions and statements, tally the votes to see which side won with the majority. 
      • Compare the class results with the actual case to see if you arrived at the same decision.
      • Continue to discuss the case as a group and if the outcome of this case changed our lives in any way. 


      • As a group, decide on one landmark court case which will be acted out.
      • The student(s) that researched the selected case will provide the basic information about the case to the rest of the class. They should also provide each person with a copy of the Court Brief Worksheet.  The students should not tell the group what the ruling was on the case.
      • Your instructor will break the class into justices, petitioners, and respondents. Additional instructions will be provided from your instructor on each group's specific role.
      • The case will be acted out with each selected justice basing their decision on their own opinion and not that of the actual case.  Each justice will also explain why they made that decision. 
      • After the case has been acted out, continue to discuss the ruling, and compare the outcome with the original case.  Was the ruling the same?  Have the facts changed over time? Did this ruling change our lives or freedoms?



      Instructor Reflection:

      • Reflect on the lesson plan and document what worked for you, what did not work for you, and what you would change for the next time you utilize this lesson.


      • Using the Lesson Reflection Worksheet, reflect on the following questions:
        • What have I learned about this topic?
        • What surprised me about this topic?
        • What interested me the most?
        • What did I find most difficult?



      Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.