For Schools

High School Students: Equal Protection
Color Conscious Or Colorblind: A Factor in Political Representation
by Nisan Chavkin

(download this entire lesson as a word doc.)

This exercise explores the role of race in political representation. Through facilitated discussion focused on a series of quotations, students will discuss multiple perspectives, share alternative views, and identify points of agreement and disagreement on this profoundly divisive issue.

To become responsible citizens in an ideologically diverse society, students need to know how to discuss and debate controversial issues. Law-related education often asks students to identify reason for supporting different sides of controversial issues and to construct arguments that justify their views. Yet because ideas, options, and even vocabulary are often associated with one side of an issue, students have few opportunities for a thoughtful exchange of ideas. This lesson is an example of how to use reflection in law-related education.

After completing this lesson, students will be able to

  • Identify varying viewpoints on an issue.
  • Recognize the facts used to support viewpoints.
  • Compare and contrast differing viewpoints.

Target Group: Secondary level students

Time Needed: 1-2 class periods

Materials Needed: Student Handouts 1 and 2 (linked below)


  1. Explain to students the purposes of the exercise: to draw out multiple perspectives on the texts, to support all interpretations by textual evidence and clear reasoning, to explore alternative views, to think about substantive agreement and disagreement, and to gain new insights.

  2. Distribute copies of "Enforcement of Voting Rights" (Student Handout 1) and "Discussion Text" (Student Handout 2). Give students a few minutes to read each of the texts and "Discussion Guidelines."

  3. Begin discussion with some opening questions, such as these:

    What does Congress want to accomplish in the text selected from the Voting Rights Act (Student Handout 1)? Can you give an example to support you view?

    What do you think the terms "color conscious" and "colorblind" mean in this context? How do they apply to quotations 1–4 (Student Handout 2)? Do you think these texts are valid? Do you think they are accurate?

    What might you assume about the authors of the texts?

    Do you see any long-term effects that this issue might have on the fabric of our democracy? Would you consider these effects positive or negative? Can you offer an example for discussion?


  4. Help students analyze the quotations in Handout 2. Encourage them to identify the opinion expressed in each quotation and the information used to support the opinion. Have them examine ways in which the opinions are alike and different.

  5. Conclude by identifying the authors of all the quotations in Handout 2 (see information below). Ask students whether their responses might have been different had they known this information, and have them reflect on why this knowledge sometimes changes opinions.

Discussion Texts Sources for quotations
1. Newt Gingrich, To Renew America, Chapter 13, "Individual Versus Group Rights," New York: Harper Collins, 1995

2. Justice Stevens, Shaw v. Reno, 125 L. Ed. 2d 511, 113 S. Ct. 2816 (1993)

3. Justice O’Connor, Shaw v. Reno, 125 L. Ed 2d 511, 113 S. Ct. 2816 (1993)

4. Clarence Page, "Supreme Court Adds Confusion to Racial Redistricting" (editorial), Chicago Tribune, December 10, 1995.

Nisan Chavkin is on the staff of the Constitutional Rights Foundation, Chicago. He wrote this article for CRF’s publication, The Legal Circle: LRE for our Nation’s Future (Spring, 1996) and it was later published in the ABA’s newsletter, Update on the Courts (Vol. 4, No. 1, Fall 1996). It is reprinted here by permission.

>>Color Conscious or Colorblind: A Factor in Political Representation
>>Handout: Enforcement of Voting Rights
>>Handout: Discussion Texts

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