Beyond Labels

From the Florida Bar!OpenDocument#Activity%205 

"Beyond Labels" is a multi-dimensional lesson plan that explores the ways labels are used by media and other commentators to explain judicial decisions.  Through moderated discussions, participants are directed to examine the meaning and importance of judicial independence as well as threats to judicial independence. 

This lesson plan, together with a "guided PowerPoint" from the Florida Bar, addresses the issue of judicial independence by considering the "labels" that are often used to describe judges and their decisions, ranging from "good" labels, such as Fair, Just, Neutral and Impartial, to "bad" labels, such as Biased, Conservative or Liberal, Activist and Corrupt.  Via mini-studies of cases that led to problematic judicial decisions, a presenter directs an audience to consider the danger to the judiciary because of political or media pressures.  Students are asked to wrestle with the ethical and political implications of current barriers to judicial independence, rather than only learning about them from an instructor or by reading about them on a worksheet. 


How do you use it?

This resource is multi-part, offering a teaching guide, or "overview" to the lesson, a stripped down PowerPoint (that could be adapted for a more personalized lesson), a set of "notes" for the present (effectively the narrative for the PowerPoint), and several excerpts from primary sources:

This resource is especially appropriate for judges familiar with cases that engage questions of judicial independence, as the lesson plans  would be enhanced by a judge/presenter being able to reference suitable cases and their specific issues. 

Who is the audience?

The guided PowerPoint and the facilitated discussion questions demand rather sophisticated knowledge of government, politics and the media from the audience.  It is likely, therefore, that this resource would be most effectively used with a college or older high-school audience.

If a presenter cared to address the subject of judicial independence to a younger audience, the focus could be narrowed so that more background and context could be communicated in advance of a class discussion.

What other resources will complement this?

  1. A Conversation on the Constitution: Judicial Independence  Video and Lesson Plan from the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics (M, H, A)
  2. Court Shorts: An Impartial Federal Judiciary  Videos from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (M, H, A)
  3. Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice   Video from the American Bar Association (M, H)  
  4. Talking Points on Judicial History: Judicial History and Federal Courts  Teaching module from the Federal Judicial Center (M, H, A)

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.