Federalist 78, the Judiciary, and an argumentative essay

I have stated how much I love teaching the Supreme Court.

It simply cannot be overstated. I could teach an entire semester on the subject, but alas I have a semester to get through the entire AP Government content.

For example, this morning I listened to “Justice Neil Gorsuch, Live at America’s Town Hall” and am currently listening to an audiobook “The Burger Court and the Rise of the Judicial Right” This is how I spend a quiet day while my family is out and about.

This week, I tried something new and after it all unfolded, I was elated with how it turned out.

Day One:

  • We looked at Article III (using the Interactive Constitution) to answer the simple question, “According to the Constitution, what is the job of the Supreme Court?” This absolutely baffled the students because it’s pretty darn vague.  The answer was:


  • I gave students 30 minutes to look through Federalist 78 (I used the Analytical Reading from MyAP) Although not a long enough time for a deep read, it gave them enough time to really see what Hamilton was talking about. I asked the question again, “According to Federalist 78, what is the job of the Supreme Court?
    • Now, we discuss here about how Federalist 78 is not a governing document but it gave insight as to what the Founder’s meant.
  • To close the class, we watched Marbury v. Madison and I asked one last time, “According to Marbury v. Madison, what is the job of the Supreme Court?

The last thing I reminded them of was that they needed to read “Reorganization of the Judiciary” and outline the arguments made by the president to change the judiciary. Defend or refute the arguments using Federalist 78, the Constitution, and other relevant documents.

Day Two (Block Day)

  • I gave my lecture on the Supreme Court. Pretty much my favorite day of the year because I have so many fun little anecdotes from my time at Street Law


Day Three: Socratic Discussion on FDR’s Fireside Chat.

We did a warm-up:

After a discussion of life tenure and the Supreme Court insulated from politics (tying in quotes from Fed 78) we moved into our tag team Socratic (students are in teams of 2 and can “tag” in and out of the circle with their partner)

This is where my students just blew it out of the water. They used Federalist 51, Federalist 70, tied it into the War Powers Act, and just tied everything up for Unit 2. Next time, I will give that detail for the Socratic to help guide students to look at all those documents, decisions, and acts of Congress to tie up the unit nicely.

Day Four: Argumentative Essay Practice (adapted from Writing a Collaborative FRQ)

(I will be using large sheets of paper so that all students can write and all be a part of the practice as opposed to individual pieces of paper. That is what works for my classes this year. I have a bad habit of assuming students know how to write because they’ve taken AP World and APUSH)

Prompt: ( I am requiring more documents in this essay than are required in the actual exam because students brought them up in the seminar and I’m focused on the content, not necessarily the outline of the essay)

The executive’s power should expand during times of crisis over the legislative or judicial branches.

Documents used:

  • Federalist 51
  • Federalist 70
  • Federalist 78
  • Constitution

Round 1: Decide whether your group will defend or refute this claim and create a line of reasoning. (5-10 minutes) Write your thesis statement on your paper and raise your hand to have the teacher check.

Groups will be given a point if: The claim or thesis responds to the prompt rather than restating or rephrasing the prompt and establishes a line of reasoning. ** Groups cannot move on from this until they receive the point.**

Round 2: Create your counterclaim. It must describe an alternate perspective AND refute, concede, or rebut that perspective. (this can be a work in progress) (5 minutes)

— Divide paper into two portions to allow documents to be placed in columns

**These last rounds are not timed, but they have until 10 minutes before the bell rings**

Round 3: As a group, outline Federalist 51 to show your knowledge of the document and explain how you can use it in your essay to explain the relationship between the evidence provided and the claim or thesis — or how it will be used for the counterclaim

Round 4: Repeat using Federalist 70

Round 5: Repeat using Federalist 78

Round 6 :Repeat using Constitution (Teacher may choose to give a little bit longer with this portion)

Round 7: Readdress your counterclaim using one of the documents you’ve outlined.  It must describe an alternate perspective AND refute, concede, or rebut that perspective.

My objective was not to have a perfectly written essay at the end, but to have good conversations. They do still write however,  I find that one of the biggest issues with this year is that students are NOT taking the time to plan out the writing. This piece of the AP exam needs planning.

Day Five: Gallery Grading

We spent 20 minutes walking the essays and grading using the College Board rubric (each student is required to grade 2) As they grade, we keep a list on the board of what was amazing about the class’s essays and what we need to focus on for the next essay. My goal is to have them writing argumentative essays that meet the requirements of the rubrics by November.

Every semester, I’ve changed how I’ve taught the argumentative essay because I have students with different skill sets. As an AP team, we meet to discuss our instructional reports and what students are struggling with. I knew these upcoming students really struggled with writing thesis statements and giving evidence. This lesson was adapted to ensure they had ample opportunity to practice those tested skills. 

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