Pathways to the Bench

“Pathways to the Bench” hosts a series of videos with federal judges from diverse backgrounds. The judges, including an appellate judge, a district judge, a bankruptcy judge and a magistrate judge, tell their life stories, explaining their disparate but determined paths to the bench.  

How do you use it?

The videos give minority and majority judges a way to briefly introduce to students the range of expertise on the federal bench and the multiple "pathways" that can lead to becoming a judge.
The videos are roughly three to four minutes long – a good length for the attention spans of students. The brevity of each video also allows time for a robust discussion of the need not only for diverse perspectives on the bench, but for a shared commitment to the Constitution.  The showing of one or more of these videos could help students understand that people who look like them or who have backgrounds like they do are at the highest levels of the judiciary.  

The resource is part of the website that includes many other teaching materials, including a read-online or downloadable guide titled Understanding the Federal Courts that could be use to enhance understanding that could be referenced by judges as they discuss the themes in the videos.

This resource provides good personal stories about sitting judges, but the viewing of one or more of these videos would ideally need to be contextualized by a presenter.  There is no dedicated lesson plan for these videos.  

Who is the audience?

These videos are short, simple and geared toward a high school or even younger audience to understand.  Although middle school and primary audiences could gain a great deal from these first-person profiles, they may be of greatest interest to older students who are beginning to think about career paths, or alternatively, to older students who have become cynical in their thinking that "no one like me" is a judge in the Federal courts.

What other resources will complement this?

  1. A Conversation on the Constitution: Jury Service  Videos and lesson plan from the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics (M, H, A)
  2. Civil Mock Trials  Case study/mock trial from Street Law (H, A)
  3. Considering the Constitution  Document from Scholastic (P, M, H) 
  4. Court Shorts: Jury Service  Video from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (M, H, A)
  5. Criminal Mock Trials  Case study/mock trial from Street Law (H, A)
  6. Deciding by Group: You Are the Jury  Document from Scholastic (P, M, H)  
  7. Juror Selection  Document from Scholastic (M, H) 
  8. Quiz #3: Civil Cases  Lesson Plan from the Federal Judicial Center (M, H, A)
  9. Quiz #4: Criminal Cases  Lesson Plan from the Federal Judicial Center (M, H, A)
  10. Texting While Driving  Case study/mock trial from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (H, A)
  11. Trial Court 'Go Fish'  Game from iCivics (P, M)

Additional Recommended Resources Off-Site Links

  1. A Constitutional Timeline
    • Multi-aged audience timeline that highlights key dates in history of Constitution, with links to text, audio and video clips. From National Constitution Center's Constitution Day site. 
  2. Interactive Constitution
    • Multi-aged audience site that enables users to search Constitution by keyword or topic, with access to explanatory materials throughout. From National Constitution Center.   
  3. The Annenberg Guide to the United States Constitution
    • Multi-aged audience site that lists the text of each section of every article in the Constitution, and provides explanation of what the text means in plain language.  From the Leonore Annenberg Institute of Civics. 
  4. Understanding the Federal Courts
    • Multi-aged online textbook-type document that includes sections on Article III, the Federal Court system and the geographical boundaries of the Courts of Appeal and the District Courts, the code of conduct for judges, juror qualifications, exemptions and terms of service, as well as categories of bankruptcy cases.  From the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts.