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A Real-World Approach to Teaching The US Constitution

Author: Lishan Desta Professor, Collin College

The US Constitution is one the shortest constitutions in the world. Despite its simplicity and elegant language, most students have not read it.
It is up to the instructors in Political Science to inspire students to read the US Constitution with interest and understanding.
The Importance Of Student Interest in the Constitution
It is both our challenge and our responsibility, to inspire interest in our Constitution among our students. We need to devise strategies that will show students the Constitution’s lasting qualities, how it supports democracy, and how it protects fundamental rights.
Instructors should therefore develop methods to spark students’ interest in Constitution. We want students to be able to see the wisdom and political context of the Constitution and to recognize its relevance in current situations.
Scenario-Based Approach
Here’s how I teach the US Constitution.
I tell a story about key constitutional principle and then create worksheets to simulate real-world scenarios that involve constitutional principles. I find that my students enjoy the legal disputes (or court scenes form) format for writing the scenarios.
Students attempt to solve legal puzzles by reading the Constitution.
Illustration: I have included an abbreviated version a worksheet that was used to teach the US Constitution using this scenario-based method.
Scenario Examples
Match one of these constitutional principles with the below-described constitutional law case scenarios.
Constitutional Principles [Disclaimer : All cases, dates and names included, are hypothetical.]
Bills of AttainderEstablishment ClauseLemon RuleCorruption of Blood & ForfeituresExclusionary RuleMiranda RightsDue Process ClauseEx Post Facto LawsPresent & Imminent DangerDouble JeopardyFree Exercise ClausePrivacy RightsThe Eighth AmendmentGun RightsPrior RestraintEminent DomainHate CrimeReserved PowersEqual Protection Under the LawsIncorporation DoctrineWrits of Habeas Corpus
1). 2011 was the year Congress passed economic sanctions against Iran. In 2012, Almoor, Inc. was sued by the U.S. attorney general. It was accused of exporting laptops from Iran between 2008-2010. Almoor’s lawyers however asked the court to drop the charge because it violated the US Constitution.
Almoor’s lawyers most likely would use which constitutional principle to present their case in court.

2). Mr. Kilby shot and seriously injures Mr. Hayle, a clerk at 7-Eleven in downtown Dallas, while he was attempting to rob the store. In 2010, Mr. Kilby was sentenced for 30 years without parole. Two years later, Mr. Hayle succumbed to complications from his injuries. Mr. Hayle’s lawyer asked Texas to retry Mr. Kilby in the murder case shortly after his death. Mr. Kilby’s lawyer counter-sued, claiming that the new charge would be against Mr. Kilby’s constitutional rights.
Which constitutional principle would Mr. Kilby’s lawyer most likely use to argue his client?

3). Three police officers were killed by Mr. Kabootz and he was sentenced to death at the XXXXXXX State Supreme Court. The lethal injection that Mr. Kabootz received did not work during his execution. He suffered severe cardiac arrest for five hour before he died. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), upon hearing about the incident, filed a lawsuit against State of XXXXXXX. The State was accused of grossly violating Mr. Kabootz’s constitutional rights.
Which constitutional principle would ACLU lawyers most likely use in bringing a lawsuit against the State of XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX?

5). A US federal court sentenced Mr. J. Kulu to 20 years imprisonment for his participation in a terrorist attack. The court also ordered the demolition of Mr. Kulu’s family home. His wife and children would be deported and stripped of their US citizenship rights. His family filed a lawsuit against the federal appeals court to overturn the decision of the lower court. The family claimed that the lower court’s decision was in violation of their constitutional rights.
The family lawyer for Mr. Kulu would likely use which constitutional principle in this case?

I hope you find these scenarios and hypothetical cases engaging and inspiring.

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