High School Students: Equal Protection
Does a Curfew Discriminate Against Young People?
This activity explores equal protection of the law by focusing on a single case centering on an issue of importance to young people. It gives students the opportunity to work independently during the class, and requires them to issue an "opinion" that deals with the standards courts use in equal protection cases. It could also be used as a follow-up activity to the strategy suggested for grades 7-9.
(Links for accompanying handouts are at the bottom of this page.)
- To show how a simple law can lead to weighty constitutional questions.
- To help students learn important principles of equal protection.
- To explain how appellate courts decide.
- Distribute the handout and ask students to read the words from the Fourteenth Amendment at the top of the page. Explain principles of equal protection ( steps 5 and 6 in strategy for grades 7-9), and the standards that courts use in deciding such cases ( steps 7-10 in strategy for grades 7-9).
- Break the class into groups of five to nine. Explain why appeals courts usually have an odd number of judges (to reduce the chances of tie votes). Say that each group is now, and for the remainder of the period, a court asked to decide the case outlined in the handout.
- Explain that a lower court has declared the statute in question unconstitutional, and the District of Columbia has appealed. The lower court found that evidence failed to show a sufficient need for the law to override minors’ equal protection and due process rights and parents’ right to due process. (Explain these points briefly, and point out that they will be raised again in the appeal, so the student "court" will have a chance to examine them in detail.)
- As judges, they would have read the briefs submitted by the parties and heard oral arguments (briefly describe this stage in the appellate process). Now they will meet and discuss the case, deciding if the ordinance is constitutional or violates constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process. Explain that the court will consider the rulings of other courts considering cases raising such issues (explain precedent). In particular, the court will have to decide which standards to apply. Make sure they understand the standards ( 9 and 10 of strategy for grades 7-9).
- Give them time to read the arguments, discuss the points, discuss which standards to apply, and reach a decision. Go from group to group to answer questions and offer assistance -- but remember that the decision is theirs.
- Ask each group to give its decision and explain its reasoning. If different "courts" reach different decisions, explore their reasons.
- You can share with them the result of the actual case (in the Abstracts Handout), and point out that judges on the same court don't always agree and that different courts at the same level can disagree, until a higher court gives guidance on the point.
>>Does a Curfew Discriminate Against Young People?
>>Handout: Case Abstracts
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