By Nick Simeonidis, Upper School History & Social Studies Teacher
The Upper School History and Social Studies Department inaugurated a new course for the 2022-23 academic year – Honors Introduction to American Law and the Western Legal Tradition. Students taking the year-long course acquire a basic understanding of American law and how it works.
In designing the course, I relied on almost 3 decades of experience practicing law in the U.S., and I wanted to give my students a chance to do a little of what real lawyers do. Their assignments include negotiating business transactions, developing a plan to advance a social justice non-profit, passing a bill into law, settling a child custody dispute – and even trying a criminal case!
For their First Semester Final Project, students in the class researched and wrote briefs on one of four unsettled and very current issues in constitutional law:
1. What should be the remedy if evidence of widespread voter fraud in a swing state was found?
2. Can a state legislature overrule the will of the voters in a presidential election and award the state's electoral votes to whichever candidate it chooses?
3. Is a candidate barred from election as president if they have been found guilty of insurrection?
4. Can presidents pardon themselves for federal crimes?
After submitting written briefs, they paired off on opposite sides on their issue, just as real lawyers do before an appeals court. The oral arguments presented were lively and insightful, with an impressive level of skill and understanding. Acting as the “judge” I asked them tough questions, and they did very well.
By the end of this course, students will understand how having a grasp of the law can help them be better informed and engaged citizens. Some signed up for the class because they aspire to be lawyers. Others are interested in business and recognize that knowing the fundamentals of American law will help them be more successful. Still, others had a free period and an interest in the subject.
Whatever their motives, judging by the knowledge and engagement they displayed with our oral arguments, they're gaining valuable insights and learning a lot, including confidence in themselves. This will be important as they set out to create change in their communities and, in keeping with our mission here at TAS, make the world a better place.