Separation of Powers and the Judiciary

Lesson Duration

Author: Linda Weber, Annenberg Classroom

When the Supreme Court, as the final arbiter and interpreter of Constitutional law, is petitioned to resolve disputes and decides to hear the cases, it helps keep the powers separate, checked, and balanced.  In this lesson, students examine historical and contemporary examples of legal disputes over Constitutional powers that were decided by the Supreme Court. They consider the role of tension and conflict in a shared powers system and gain an appreciation for what is required to make the Constitution work.


  •  Explain the Constitutional principles of separation of powers and checks and balances.
  • Give examples of separate and shared powers involving the judicial branch.
  • Explain the Supreme Court’s role and authority in maintaining the balance of power.
  • Give examples of historical and contemporary challenges to Constitutional powers and explain how they were resolved by the Supreme Court.
  • Recognize the tension caused by having a shared powers system of government and appreciate how Constitutional conflicts are resolved peacefully.
  • Identify other factors beyond the shared powers structure defined in the Constitution that are essential for mak- ing the Constitution work. (e.g., dispositions or traits of character, commitment to democratic principles and values, personal and civic responsibilities).


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