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Role Playing in Teaching Constitutional Law
Unformatted Document Text:  Small courts In my upper level undergraduate law courses of about forty students each, after the second meeting I divide the class into about six groups of five to seven students each. I select the groups taking some care to seek a diversity of student preparations and backgrounds that will further the intergroup dialogue. Each group then must choose the name of a Supreme Court Justice (past or present) and it becomes the Brandeis, O’Connor or Scalia court, for example. Each court is responsible for knowing enough about its chosen justice that members are able to respond to questions about how “their” Justice might have decided a hypothetical case. But that is a secondary objective. The primary objective is that each court member decides the hypothetical problem for her or him self. The courts are reminded that they are a Supreme Court and that they may overrule a precedent, but they must discuss it. The hypothetical problems (one for each class session) are given out in advance and one is selected in the prior period for discussion in the next class. Therefore, when the students are reading and briefing cases, they will also have an eye on the hypothetical problem they must solve. The Courts convene as soon as students assemble and this practice encourages students to not only be on time, but often to be early. It is not unusual for me to enter the classroom five minutes early and find some or all of the courts vigorously engaged in their discussions. Thus, the problem of disengaging students from their ipods, cellphones, internet connections, idle chatter or just being zoned out in order to begin a class does not occur. The whole court exercise takes up about ten minutes of class time, though that could be extended if the discussions were particularly productive. 2

Authors: La Noue, George.
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Small courts
In my upper level undergraduate law courses of about forty students each, after the
second meeting I divide the class into about six groups of five to seven students each. I select
the groups taking some care to seek a diversity of student preparations and backgrounds that
will further the intergroup dialogue. Each group then must choose the name of a Supreme
Court Justice (past or present) and it becomes the Brandeis, O’Connor or Scalia court, for
example. Each court is responsible for knowing enough about its chosen justice that members
are able to respond to questions about how “their” Justice might have decided a hypothetical
case. But that is a secondary objective. The primary objective is that each court member
decides the hypothetical problem for her or him self. The courts are reminded that they are a
Supreme Court and that they may overrule a precedent, but they must discuss it.
The hypothetical problems (one for each class session) are given out in advance and one
is selected in the prior period for discussion in the next class. Therefore, when the students are
reading and briefing cases, they will also have an eye on the hypothetical problem they must
solve.
The Courts convene as soon as students assemble and this practice encourages students
to not only be on time, but often to be early. It is not unusual for me to enter the classroom five
minutes early and find some or all of the courts vigorously engaged in their discussions. Thus,
the problem of disengaging students from their ipods, cellphones, internet connections, idle
chatter or just being zoned out in order to begin a class does not occur. The whole court
exercise takes up about ten minutes of class time, though that could be extended if the
discussions were particularly productive.
2


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