The Supreme Court: An Apolitical Branch?
On January 27, Justice Stephen Breyer announced his plan to resign from the Supreme Court. Soon after, President Biden nominated Ketanjii Brown Jackson to fill the open position on the Court. The nomination process began in the Senate and a debate ensued over whether she was fit to serve on the Court. This debate fell almost exclusively along party lines—and ultimately only three Republicans voted to confirm Jackson alongside every Democratic senator. Is this an anomaly in the history of Supreme Court nominations? Does this partisanship pose a danger to the role of the Court? Or is this a healthy part of our democratic process?
Handout B: Supreme Court Nominations (1789-Present)
Have students read the second paragraph of Article II Section 2 and Article III Sections 1 and 2 in Handout A while highlighting vocabulary words they are unfamiliar with. Upon completion, guide students to understand the highlighted words and then lead a class discussion about the role of the judiciary in the American constitutional system. Use the following questions as guidance to the discussion.
- What are the roles of the president and the Senate in filling empty seats in the judiciary?
- What is the stated job of the judiciary?
- Does it appear that political partisanship would impact the judiciary? Why or why not?
Next, have students analyze the chart in Handout B and then use the following questions as guidance to a discussion about political partisanship and the Supreme Court.
- What trends do you notice about the vote splits for Supreme Court nominations throughout our nation’s history?
- Some of the vote margins have been very close. What are some possible explanations for this?
- Based on this chart, do you think the nomination and confirmation of a justice is a politically partisan process? Why or why not?
- Do you think it is important that the Supreme Court be as uninvolved in political partisanship as possible? Why or why not?
Extension: Think the Vote is a debate platform that encourages students to grapple with difficult current event issues. Students with the best answers on each side of the debate will each win an Amazon gift card, BRI swag, and be entered to win our grand prize of a $1,000 scholarship. Referring teachers of the winners will also win prizes of their own! From April 14-April 28, we are asking students to weigh in on the question: Has the Confirmation Process of Supreme Court Nominees Become too Political?