Article III of the Constitution sets up the third and final branch of our government, the judicial branch. At its head is the Supreme Court. Join a group of middle schoolers on a tour of Washington, D.C. as they learn about the Constitution and what it means to be "We the People." The "We the People" videos are produced in collaboration with the U.S. Capitol Historical Society.
We the People – The Supreme Court
LESTER HOLT, NBC News (2015): A major decision from the Supreme Court tonight...
CARL STERN, NBC News (1974): When the decision came, it came with maximum impact. One decision, unanimous...
TOM BROKAW, NBC News (2000): The U.S. Supreme Court has just released its ruling in one of the most important decisions it will make in its modern history.
KRISTEN WELKER, NBC News:
Article III of the Constitution sets up the third and final branch of our government, the judicial branch. At its head, the Supreme Court.
Today, we join a tour of middle schoolers in Washington D.C. to learn all about the nine people in black robes and the role they play in the checks and balances of our government.
DION PRICE (USA Guided Tours): So here we are, in front of the Supreme Court. This is of course the highest court in the land.
ANNOUNCER: Mr. Speaker, the chief justice and associate justices of the Supreme Court!
MARY BETH TINKER (Tinker Tour USA): There are three branches of government. The legislative, the executive and the judicial. It is possible for the legislative branch, or any of the branches, to do something against the Constitution. And that's where your checks and balances come in.
STEVE LIVENGOOD (U.S. Capitol Historical Society): The purpose of the Supreme Court is that we have one single body that makes the decision when there are disagreements among other courts, and disagreements between the executive and the legislative branch.
ROGER MUDD, NBC News (1982): Richard Nixon has again succeeded in bitterly dividing a branch of the government. Today it was the Supreme Court, the vote was five to four.
PRICE: How many justices do we have, total? Someone said it I think. Nine!
BROKAW: The court today ruled on a Pennsylvania law loaded with restrictions and in its 5-to-4 decision, it left both sides complaining.
LIVENGOOD: They did recognize they needed an odd number, so that you don't have a tie. And we have the nine justices that vote on decisions.
Sen. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): The president is the one who will nominate judicial nominees, put these names forward to the Senate. And then it is up to the Senate to review these judicial nominees.
SENATOR: The president has his vetting process and we in the Senate have our vetting process.
LIVENGOOD: And so you have a balance between the executive and the legislative in that situation.
PRICE: Sometimes the Supreme Court's making decisions, major decisions.
TINKER: The story of America is a story of expanding rights. In the beginning, the Constitution only applied really to white men with property. It certainly didn't cover children and teenagers.
Rep. VIRGINIA FOXX (R-NC): We know that students’ rights are upheld frequently by the courts in terms of the students having the right to free speech.
LIVENGOOD: At the beginning of the Vietnam War, as there were people who opposed it, there were several students in Des Moines, Iowa who wore black armbands to school.
TINKER: This black armband. It's a symbol that goes through history to mourn for the dead.
I was in eighth grade. I was 13 years old. It was 1965. And the Vietnam War was just building up more and more. And so I decided I would try to be brave and wear my black armband to school.
LIVENGOOD: They weren't doing anything more than wearing these armbands and they were expelled from school for that.
TINKER: But we thought, no, we're citizens in the United States and we should have a right to have our opinions also. We had a big meeting with the school, but they wouldn't change their mind. And so we went to court.
LIVENGOOD: And the case, Tinker v. Des Moines, went all the way to the Supreme Court. And the Supreme Court said you students are correct, you do have the right to wear those armbands.
TINKER: The Supreme Court didn't just vote for us. The Supreme Court voted for you, for students all over the country to have a say and to speak up and use your First Amendment rights.
Justice SONIA SOTOMAYOR: There are always pressures on our democracy and what saves our democracy always is involved citizens willing to take up the challenge that our Constitution presents them with because democracy doesn't work on its own.
Rep. COLIN ALLRED (D-TX): Our democracy is not a spectator sport. It's something in which you have to be actively involved in.
TINKER: ‘We the people’ means all the people, including young people. I learned a very important lesson that day. You don't have to be the most courageous person in the world. You can be you. You can be 13. For the rest of my life I found out how much that little bit of courage had meant.
Legendary Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that a Supreme Court Justice should be a "combination of Justinian, Jesus Christ and John Marshall." Justinian was the powerful Byzantine Emperor who tried to restore the greatness of the Roman Empire. John Marshall was one of the first Supreme Court justices, whose court opinions helped lay the basis for United States constitutional law and made the Supreme Court of the United States a co-equal branch of government along with the legislative and executive branches.
Why are venerable former justices sources of guidance in understanding necessary qualities for federal judges?
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