Talking Points on Judicial History: Judicial History & Federal Courts

From the Federal Judicial Center 

This resource gathers together a range of materials relating to judicial independence; it includes links to talking points, suggested discussion questions, historical documents, a bibliography, the full text of the Bruce Ragsdale (2006) article titled "Judicial Independence and the Federal Courts" as well as a PowerPoint presentation. 

As the website to this teaching module notes:  "This teaching module was developed by the Federal Judicial Center to support judges and court staff who want to speak to various groups about the history of an independent federal judiciary. It focuses on historical debates about judicial independence." 

This module on Judicial History is supplemented by other modules in FJC's series that "examine the constitutional origins of the judiciary and the development of the federal court system."


How do you use it?

This module has four components:  a background discussion section where presenters can find talking points; a PowerPoint presentation that can be downloaded; a list of suggested discussion topics for the audience; and a bibliography of historical documents that can be incorporated in the presenter's remarks or used to help guide the discussion."  On balance this teaching module is  user friendly, easy to navigate and simple to navigate.  It is  very text-heavy, however, and if a judge were to have a class work directly with this material, s/he might want to consider how to make the material more appealing to a young audience.

The most usable component of this resource for judges is the PowerPoint slideshow as it summarizes the most important points from the original site by breaking them up into easy-to-read categories with lists. The slides clearly present the intended takeaways of the presentation. 

Who is the audience?

The resource content and presentation is most appropriate for a high-school audience, but older middle school students as well as undergraduates would likely find the module valuable. 

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. Beyond Labels  Lesson Plan (PowerPoint) from the Florida Bar (H, A)
  3. Court Shorts: An Impartial Federal Judiciary  Videos from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (M, H, A)
  4. Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice   Video from the American Bar Association (M, H)  

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.