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Role Playing in Teaching Constitutional Law
Unformatted Document Text:  Each court establishes an order of seniority by birth dates closest to January 1 or some other date and the most senior becomes the Chief Justice. This random method of selection often places students in leadership positions who have not previously experienced it and would not volunteer for it. But creating leadership responsibility for these small groups is a great learning experience for many students. The Chief Justice has the role of managing the discussion, so that each student participates and of bringing his or her court to a vote when I, gauging the level of discussion, call for voting. Emphasis is placed on orderly discussion in order of seniority and in limiting interruptions of each other and the use of slang or other imprecise language. If the Chief Justice is in the majority, he or she will assign the presentation of the opinion. If not, the senior member of the court will exercise that responsibility. After the vote, I will at random call on one court to present its opinion. The court’s spokesperson will rise and speak to the class, identify himself or herself and explain in a few minutes how that court voted and what the majority’s reasoning was. Sometimes I may have a few questions of clarification or challenge, but usually we go on to the rest of that day’s more conventional work. In the brief ten minutes of the courts, however, every student will have articulated a legal argument in their small group, heard a response from peers, have decided how to define the legal issues in the hypothetical, considered what the text of the constitution or statues might say, examined relevant precedents, evaluated whether strict scrutiny or rational basis applies and determined how to attain justice within the traditions of judicial activism or restraint. In my experience, students approach these challenges with great enthusiasm and it opens them up to learning from the more conventional methods much earlier in the course. Course evaluations always point to the small courts as a strength of the courses. I have prepared about 25 3

Authors: La Noue, George.
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Each court establishes an order of seniority by birth dates closest to January 1 or some
other date and the most senior becomes the Chief Justice. This random method of selection
often places students in leadership positions who have not previously experienced it and would
not volunteer for it. But creating leadership responsibility for these small groups is a great
learning experience for many students. The Chief Justice has the role of managing the
discussion, so that each student participates and of bringing his or her court to a vote when I,
gauging the level of discussion, call for voting. Emphasis is placed on orderly discussion in
order of seniority and in limiting interruptions of each other and the use of slang or other
imprecise language. If the Chief Justice is in the majority, he or she will assign the presentation
of the opinion. If not, the senior member of the court will exercise that responsibility.
After the vote, I will at random call on one court to present its opinion. The court’s
spokesperson will rise and speak to the class, identify himself or herself and explain in a few
minutes how that court voted and what the majority’s reasoning was. Sometimes I may have a
few questions of clarification or challenge, but usually we go on to the rest of that day’s more
conventional work.
In the brief ten minutes of the courts, however, every student will have articulated a
legal argument in their small group, heard a response from peers, have decided how to define
the legal issues in the hypothetical, considered what the text of the constitution or statues might
say, examined relevant precedents, evaluated whether strict scrutiny or rational basis applies
and determined how to attain justice within the traditions of judicial activism or restraint. In my
experience, students approach these challenges with great enthusiasm and it opens them up to
learning from the more conventional methods much earlier in the course. Course evaluations
always point to the small courts as a strength of the courses. I have prepared about 25
3


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