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By Mrsbenalayat
On July 28, 2020

Lesson Plan: Judicial Review and Marbury v Madison

Midnight Appointments of John Adams

C-SPAN host Susan Swain, Author Cliff Sloan, and Yale University Law Professor Akhil Reed Amar discuss the reasons behind the midnight appointments made by President John Adams.


The Supreme Court has the power to interpret the Constitution. Its rulings on cases determine the meaning of laws and acts of Congress and the president. Knowing the key decisions of the Supreme Court and the precedents they set is vital in understanding the meaning of laws, how our country has changed over time, and the direction the country is currently headed. In this lesson students will examine the case of Marbury v. Madison.



    Before beginning the lesson, have students test their understanding of the following vocabulary words. You may print this out or you may assign it to each student individually using Google Classroom, Schoology or another classroom platform. This activity is divided into two pages.

    Judicial Review Marbury v Madison Vocabulary Drag and Drop Activity (Google Slide)

    • Lame-Duck
    • Recuse
    • Repudiate
    • Judicial Review
    • Writ of Mandamus
    • Partisan
    • Jurisdiction
    • Incumbent
    • Federalist Party
    • Democratic Republican Party

    After students have reviewed the vocabulary words using the drag and drop activity, guide them through this brief visualization activity. Have students close their eyes.

    1. Imagine you are President John Adams.

    2. You have just served 4 years (1 term) as the second president of the United States.

    3. You lost the election to Thomas Jefferson, who does not hold the same values and ideas for this country as you. It was not a pleasant experience, the election. Both sides are hurt and angered by things said by the other side.

    4. How do you want to spend the last few weeks, days, hours as president?

    5. Do you want to make a future impact?

    After giving students a minute to quietly reflect on this situation and these questions, have them turn and talk to a partner and discuss these questions. After a minute have volunteers share their thoughts.

    Tell students that they will be learning about the importance of the Marbury v Madison case that came about due to President John Adams’ actions in the last hours of his presidency.


    Have students complete the following activity:

    HANDOUT: Judicial Review Marbury v Madison Activity (Google Slide)

    Remember to make a copy of the document before assigning to each student. You will be able to post this assignment in Google Classroom, Schoology, or other platforms. Students will independently work through the presentation, viewing video clips and answering questions within the presentation to gain a better understanding of the concept of judicial review taken from the court case Marbury v Madison. Students will be answering the following questions:

    1. Explain why President John Adams was so eager to sign so many judicial appointments in the last hours of his presidency.

    2. What happened to some of the commissions prior to Adams leaving office? Why was this important?

    3. Describe the letter from Thomas Jefferson to Abigail Adams and what it illustrated about the midnight appointments.

    4. Did William Marbury have a right to his commission according to the Supreme Court ruling?

    5. Did William Marbury have a right to his commission according to the Supreme Court ruling?

    6. The panelists are discussing the essential point in the Marbury v Madison case. That point is the power of judicial review. As per the panelists, explain the meaning of judicial review.

    7. According to Cliff Sloan, what is the significance of the Marbury v. Madison decision on our Constitutional system?

    8. Explain the concept of judicial review that resulted in the Marbury v. Madison decision.
  • WRAP UP:

    Choose an activity from C-SPAN Classroom's Deliberations site to engage in a structured student-centered analysis of the case Marbury v Madison.

Additional Resources


  • Democratic Republican Party
  • Federalist Party
  • Incumbent
  • Judicial Review
  • Jurisdiction
  • Lame-duck
  • Partisan
  • Recuse
  • Repudiate
  • Writ Of Mandamus


Judicial BranchSupreme Court Cases


Middle School