the Video Unit 2
Pre-Viewing Activity and
Discussion (30 minutes)
Before viewing the video, discuss the following questions:
- Discuss how the Constitution should be read-a document to be
read literally and applied without regard to changed circumstances
or as a living document subject to reinterpretation as the times
- How does the Constitution guard against the concentration of
- Who ordained and established the Constitution?
- Is the original Constitution democratic?
Watch the Video
(30 minutes) and Discuss (30 minutes) [Top]
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The video includes three segments:
1. The Death Penalty: Is It Constitutional?
Throughout U.S. history, judges have had to interpret constitutional
principles in the light of unique cases and social contexts. A basic
question facing judges is how much weight should they assign to
changing societal norms and public opinion in their decisions. Should
the Constitution be interpreted as a fixed set of principles that
endure even though society changes, or should it be reinterpreted
and reapplied as society changes? This is not a new question. In
fact, the Constitution's framers themselves disagreed over the answer.
The death penalty and the vague language of the Eighth Amendment
offer excellent examples of the difficulties in applying the Constitution
to specific societal problems.
- How should judges interpret vaguely worded phrases in the Constitution?
- Should public opinion dictate how the Constitution is interpreted?
- Should public opinion be ignored?
- If public opinion is relevant to the interpretation of the Constitution,
how are we to know what the public wants?
2. When Congress Says Yes, and the President Says No
Following years of wartime freezes on workers' wages and labor strikes,
organized labor began a series of labor strikes in 1946. At their
height, the strikes placed over 2 million workers on the picket lines.
Although he was a Democrat and generally supported organized labor,
President Harry S. Truman tried to stop the steel strikes first by
negotiating with union heads and then by placing the coal mines under
government control. Republicans had recently gained a majority in
both houses of Congress, and they were determined to act through legislation.
They passed the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which permitted states to
legislate right-to-work laws that prohibited "closed shop"
contracts that excluded non-union workers from unionized plants. It
also authorized federal injunctions against strikes that "jeopardized
the public health or safety." Truman's veto of the Taft-Hartley
act set up a clash between Congress and the President and illustrated
the Constitution's principles of separation of powers and checks and
- Why does the president have the veto power?
- Since Truman favored some portions of the Taft-Hartley Act,
would the nation have been better served if he had possessed a
- How does the battle over the Taft-Hartley Act demonstrate the
Constitution's version of checks and balances?
3. Seventy-Two Years to Success: Women Gain the Right To Vote
The story of the struggle over women's suffrage illustrates the difficulties
involved in passing a constitutional amendment. At the end of the
Civil War, Congress passed the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
that granted the right to vote to former male slaves. Many abolitionists,
including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, argued unsuccessfully
that the amendment should also grant women the right to vote. Supporters
of women's suffrage continued to press the issue by introducing a
constitutional amendment into every Congress after that. By the early
1890s, the profound changes in women's lives fueled the suffrage movement;
but as the movement grew stronger, so did the opposition. In the final
analysis, the suffragettes won, but the battle was long and hard,
demonstrating that amending the Constitution is seldom easy.
- Why were women originally excluded from voting?
- Why was it so difficult to secure the right to vote for women?
- Has it always been this difficult to amend the Constitution?
- The Nineteenth Amendment is one of only 27 amendments. Have
any of the others changed the principles under which our constitutional
and Discussion (10 minutes) [Top]
Try the Critical
Thinking activity for Unit 2. This is a good activity to
use with your students, too.
1. Are Additional Constitutional Amendments Needed? (10 minutes)
After researching the current amendments, develop and present a
proposal for a new amendment. Possible changes might include new
rights (e.g., a right to education or health care), altered governmental
powers (e.g., presidential declaration of war), or changes in procedures
(e.g., term limits for Congress or the Supreme Court, direct popular
election for presidents). Discuss why the amendment is needed and
strategies for gaining ratification.
Read the following Readings from Unit 3 to prepare for next week's
Read next week's Topic Overview.
- Introduction-Federalism: U.S. v. the States
- Tocqueville, Democracy in America: "In What Respects the
Federal Constitution Is Superior to That of the States"
- Federalist Papers: "Federalist No. 46"
- McCulloch v. Maryland
- Dred Scott v. Sandford
You may want to have your students do the post-viewing activities:
Ongoing Disputes Over the Meaning and Application of Constitutional
Principles and Are Additional Constitutional Amendments Needed?
They are provided for you as blackline masters in the Appendix of
the print guide.