Q50: What is one part of the judicial branch?  

A. The Attorney General 
B. The Senate Judiciary Committee
C. The Supreme Court 
D. The Department of Justice

Q51: What does the judicial branch do?  

A. Creates laws, enforces laws, and reviews laws 
B. Reviews laws, explains laws, resolves disputes, and decides if a law goes against the Constitution 
C. Writes laws, evaluates laws, and passes laws 
D. Reviews laws, resolves disputes, and enforces laws

Question Background Information


Article III creates the judicial branch of the federal government, which includes the federal courts, led by the Supreme Court. Its job is to hear cases and controversies, or legal disputes. In the course of considering these disputes, the judicial branch enforces the Constitution, reviewing laws and executive actions to ensure that these laws and executive actions are consistent with the Constitution. If they find otherwise, they will decline to apply an unconstitutional law; this process is called judicial review.

The Founders thus adopted both the separation of powers and checks and balances in preserving constitutional liberty. For the courts, that means that they are not supposed to have the power to make policy — deciding whether something is good or bad, efficient or inefficient, is left for the legislatures (of either Congress or the states). It also means that the judicial branch has the power to check the excesses of the other two branches by striking down actions of the legislative or executive branches whenever they violate the Constitution. Their role is to be a limited one—but an important one — in ensuring the Constitution is followed.

In other words, this process is designed to ensure that the rest of the government — whether the states, Congress, or executive branch — is faithful to the Constitution, while keeping the judiciary out of the role of making policy.

Additional Content

Offline Activity


In this activity, students will read the majority and dissenting opinions in Plessy v. Ferguson related to the question of whether the 14th Amendment’s list of restrictions on state governments either banned or permitted segregation by state governments. [The Supreme Court later concluded the Plessy dissent was correct, in the case of Brown v. Board of Education.]


  • Provide each group with Plessy v. Ferguson
  • Provide each group with the 3-2-1 worksheet.  
  • A rubric is available if this is a graded activity.

Required files 

The Teaching Materials for this exercise includes a rubric.

Teaching Materials.


  1. This activity works well as an individual assignment. However, depending on the age and/or skill level of the students, you may want to have them work in pairs.
    • If that is the case, then divide the class into pairs based on the students’ individual levels. Group A is the group that needs some extra support. Group B is the core group that has the core knowledge to complete the activity. Group C is the enrichment group that has mastered the material. Group C students are prepared to extend their knowledge. Pair those who need support (Group A) with those who have core knowledge and/or have mastered the material (Groups B and C).
  2. Explain to the students that they will read an abridged version of the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, with both the majority and dissenting opinions.
  3. After they complete the reading, they will fill out a 3-2-1 Worksheet where they write down three questions that they have, two facts that they have learned, and one opinion about the topic.
  4. Circulate throughout the room to help students as needed.
  5. If you wish, once the students complete the worksheet, use it as a springboard into class discussion on what the judiciary’s job is and whether the court ruled consistently with the Constitution in this case. Some things to look for/possible questions to ask:
    • Can a state make a regulation sorting its citizens by race, as the majority says? Or is “separate but equal” banned by the 14th Amendment, as Harlan says in dissenting?
    • What is the role of the Court? Is it supposed to block legislation it thinks is a bad idea? Or only when it violates the Constitution? How do the dissent and majority each answer this question? Who is right?
    • Notes for teachers: Consistent with the legal doctrine of the time, the majority thinks the Court should take into account whether a state’s policy is reasonable or unreasonable in assessing its legality. Note that Harlan rejects this claim, arguing that part is the legislature’s job, and courts should stay out of that, consistent with the separation of powers. Instead, for Harlan, and the reason he is in dissent, is that the question is whether the text of the Constitution has been violated—in this case, whether the states are passing unequal laws in violation of the 14th Amendment, which requires states to be bound by a core set of civil liberties. Because he thinks the state creating classifications based on race amounts to a caste system and is thus inherently “unequal” protection of the laws, he would have the Court block the Louisiana law.
    • At the end, explain to the students that the Court later concluded it had made an error in interpreting the Constitution, and roughly fifty years later overturned Plessy in the Brown v. Board of Education case.

Discussion Prompts

Below are two discussion prompts that can be used by teachers in a classroom setting. 

  • The first discussion prompt will be one that is designed to support students that are not really understanding the content in a way that would help them to answer the test question.
  • The second discussion prompt will be one that is designed to further student understanding of the content by making real-world connections, including connections to current events and historical events. 


The job of the judicial branch is to decide cases and ensure the Constitution is followed. The Founding Fathers created the Supreme Court and then granted power to Congress to establish additional inferior courts as needed. As a result, we have three levels to the court system: the district courts, the appellate courts, and the Supreme Court. While each court has its own functions, they are all charged with applying the law. 

Prompt 1

The Founding Fathers were very deliberate in their decision to create three branches and make sure that each had its own responsibilities. As a result, we have the legislative branch, which is responsible for creating law; the executive branch, which is responsible for signing bills into law as well as implementing them; and the third branch is the judicial branch. What is its role and how are its justices appointed?

Prompt 2

Although Congress and the president were both supposed to block federal bills they believed were unconstitutional, the Founders recognized that sometimes they would pass unconstitutional legislation nonetheless. Thus, they wanted the courts to assess the constitutionality of laws and be able to block those that violated the Constitution. Why might Congress and the president pass unconstitutional laws that would then need the courts to overturn them? Why might the Founders have made it so the Court’s decisions cannot be overturned by the other two branches, only by the people through an amendment or the Court reconsidering its own decisions? Support your answers with current and past events in history.