4. Bill of Rights Overview + 14th & 15th Amendments

Overview The resources in this section address constitutional amendments that guarantee freedoms fundamental to American concepts of justice and liberty. They examine constitutional provisions protecting the rights of individuals against government intrusion and the relationship of such protections to the Rule of Law. The resources also illuminate the role of the courts in clarifying and protecting individual rights. 

The Bill of Rights — embodied in the first ten amendments to the Constitution and ratified in 1791 — provides specific protections for the people against government authority. These rights include free speech and assembly, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, rights to public trial and to counsel in criminal prosecutions, and rights to trial by jury in civil and criminal proceedings. 

The resources in this section also provide tools for teaching about the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits each State from denying the equal protection of the laws to any person within its jurisdiction. This post-Civil War amendment grants Federal and State citizenship rights to all persons born or naturalized in the United States, extends to the States the requirement of due process of law prior to any deprivation of life, liberty or property by government (the Fifth Amendment imposed this restriction on the Federal government), and guarantees equal protection under the law. 

This section’s resources also discuss one of the United States' most important rights and civic responsibilities: voting. These materials demonstrate that the right to vote has not always been enjoyed by all United States citizens on equal terms. Rather, as this section discusses, the right to vote has evolved and been broadened over the country’s history, including through the Fifteenth Amendment, ratified in 1870, which prohibits the Federal and State governments from denying citizens the right to vote on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude. The resources also cover the continuing effort to ensure the protection of this fundamental right.

Learning Objectives |  Students will be able to: 
  • Understand the constitutional roots of basic rights and freedoms 
  • Identify rights guaranteed to individuals
  • Explain those rights and relate them to their own lives and communities
  • Understand the role of the courts in applying constitutional protections to real-life situations
  • Understand and be able to explain how these rights affect their own lives and communities
  • Identify situations implicating denial of equal protection
  • Articulate efforts that have been made to ensure that voting is a fair process that treats the voices of all citizens equally. 
  • Appreciate the importance of the hard-won right to vote.

Summary of Resources Below is the list of resources gathered in this section.  Click on the titles to learn more. 

  1. Balancing Free Speech and Fair Trial 
    • This simulation can be used with high school students to show them the tensions between the First and Sixth Amendment protections through a fictional case that pits a criminal defendant's constitutional right to a fair trial against the constitutional rights to free speech of relatives of an alleged victim.
    • Lesson Plan from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts
    • Age: H
  2. Courts in the Classroom
    • This webpage hosts three series of videos targeted to older primary and middle school audiences:  a series on The Big Ideas, with videos on Privacy, Free Expression, Symbolic Speech, Censorship, Courts, Due Process, Laws, Checks and Balances; The Third Branch, with two videos titled  About Judges and about Courts; and Landmark Cases, with videos on the  First, Fourth, Fourteenth Amendments and Checks and Balances.  The webpage also has quizzes, a resources guide for teachers, and related lesson plans. 
    • Videos from the Judicial Council of California and the Administrative Office  of the U.S. Courts
    • Age: P, M (H)
  3. Interpreting the Constitution: What Does That Mean? 
    • This lesson plan can be used with high school students to help them learn that the rights in the Bill of Rights have no exact definition and are open to interpretation. Students look at real cases involving the 5th and 8th amendments and see whether they come to the same conclusion about each case as the Supreme Court did. 
    • Lesson Plan from iCivics
    • Age: H
  4. Perseverance and the Bill of Rights 
    • This lesson plan can be used with middle and high school students to teach them the background about the rights to petition and assemble as protected by the First Amendment — as well as ways in which those rights are interpreted. 
    • Lesson plan from the Bill of Rights Institute, via the National Constitution Center
    • Age: M, H 
  5. Respecting Freedom of Speech 
    • This lesson plan can be used with middle and high school students to help them grapple with how the concept of "respect" intersects with individuals' freedom of expression. 
    • Lesson Plan from the Bill of Rights Institute, via the National Constitution Center
    • Age: M, H  
  6. Supreme Decision 
    • This game can be played with middle and high school students to help them learn about how the Supreme Court makes decisions.  The online computer game guides students as they dissect the processes of the Supreme Court.
    • Game from iCivics
    • Age: M, H 
  7. The First and Fourteenth Amendments 
    • This lesson plan can be used with middle and high school students to help them learn the basics about First Amendment freedoms. 
    • Lesson Plan from Channel One 
    • Age: M, H
Resources, cont. 
  1. The Story of the Bill of Rights 
    • This portal gathers together 11 videos on the Bill of Rights suitable for high school-level students.  The videos give overviews of what the Amendments "say" and "mean."  The portal also links to a Bill of Rights game, suitable for middle and high school students.  
    • Videos and game from the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics
    • Age: M, H
  2. Yick Wo and the Equal Protection Clause
    • This 20-minute video and related “Equal Justice Under Law” lesson plan can be to help teach high school students about the case Yick Wo v. Hopkins (1886) in which the Supreme Court held that non-citizens have due process rights under the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.
    • Video from the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics
    • Age: H, A

Resources Individual Rights / Voting Rights / Citizen Rights 
  1. 9/11 and the Constitution
    • The four lesson plans gathered together on this site can be used to teach middle school and older students  to reflect upon who "we" are as Americans, examine "our" fundamental ideals and principles, evaluate "our" nation’s progress toward realization of our shared ideals, and propose actions to narrow the gap between these ideals and "our" daily lives.  
    • Lesson plans from the Center for Civic Education
    • Age: M, H  
  2. A Day in the Life
    • This interactive quiz-type game is an engaging way for a teen-aged audience to understand how court decisions affect their everyday lives.  Players choose the related Supreme Court decision that directly impacts the rights and freedoms of citizens of the United States and then learn about those cases.  After selecting the correct (or perhaps incorrect) response, students learn about the specific case by reading a brief summary.
    • Interactive "game" from PBS.org
    • Age: M, H
  3. Korematsu and Civil Liberties
    • This documentary video together with a related Civil Liberties in Wartime timeline can be used to teach high school students about a landmark Japanese internment case.  Korematsu v. U.S. (1944) concerned the constitutionality of Presidential Executive Order 9066 during World War II.  The video and its accompanying timeline can help students understand the meaning of being considered a U.S. citizen and what rights that status includes.  
    • Video from the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics.
    • Age: H, A 
  4. One Person, One Vote
    • This video and related lesson plan can be to help teach high school students about how the principle of one person, one vote emerged from a series of landmark decisions. Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Stephen G. Breyer and other experts discuss the implications of the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause, including the issue of redistricting.
    • Video and lesson plan from the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics
    • Age: H, A